Exercises to Help You Pass the Firefighter’s CPAT

Exercises to Help You Pass the Firefighter’s CPAT

Exercises to Help You Pass the Firefighter’s CPAT

What is the CPAT?

CPAT stands for the candidate physical ability test. It is a pass/fail test and cannot be used to rank candidates when evaluating them for the fire academy. Orientations and practice tests are available prior to taking the CPAT to help you prepare. The test was established by a task force made up of ten fire departments, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), and the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC).

The CPAT consists of eight parts designed to mirror the physical demands of being a firefighter. The events are in a set sequence to best match what you would need to do during a real fire. If you exceed the time limit of ten minutes and twenty seconds or are disqualified from an event, you fail the test. Many fire departments use this test as part of the physical requirements to determine if you’re ready for the fire academy.

CPAT Orientations and Practice Tests

Before your test, you have the opportunity to go to two CPAT orientation sessions within eight weeks prior to testing. The sessions give you an overview on the CPAT course, an overview of each event, a hands-on chance to try each event and ask instructors questions, and a preparation guide.

You can also take up to two timed practice tests within thirty days before the test. You must pay a fee to take the test which consists of a timed trial exactly like test day. However, if you fail an event, unlike test day, you will be allowed to attempt the rest of the events so you can experience the entire course. During the practice test, a proctor will be supervising you and can give you advice on techniques and conditioning.

If you choose not to attend the two orientations and two practice tests, you must sign a waiver acknowledging the sessions were available and you voluntarily chose to waive the opportunity to participate.

Why should I train for the CPAT?

You must wear a weighted vest during the test to simulate wearing protective equipment. Even if you are already in good physical shape, the extra weight means you likely aren’t prepared. You should train prior to taking the test so you’re ready to pass it the first time.

"It is extremely important to add different exercises to your CPAT training. You can use different tools, but one that is easily available is a TheraBand Resistance Band. I use resistance training in my fitness regimen to stay physically fit for the different jobs that firefighting presents." - Tommy Basore, Firefighter EMT, City of Leawood

The Eight Events of the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT)

During the test, you will be required to wear a fifty pound vest, a pair of gloves, and a helmet. Each event is connected by an eighty-five foot walk, giving you time to recover. Depending on the location of your test, it may take place indoors or outdoors.

This guide explains what firefighter duty each event simulates, what you will do during each event, and what actions will result in disqualification. Learn how to prepare for each event by following the suggested exercises!

Event 1: Stair Climb
Event 2: Hose Drag
Event 3: Equipment Carry
Event 4: Ladder Raise and Extension
Event 5: Forcible Entry
Event 6: Search
Event 7: Rescue
Event 8: Ceiling Breach and Pull
Video of the Eight Event CPAT

Event 1: Stair Climb

What it simulates: Carrying a high rise pack or hose bundle while climbing stairs

What you do during the event: A stair climb for three minutes on a StepMill stair climbing machine at sixty steps per minute, while wearing an additional twenty-five pounds of weight (twelve and a half pounds on each shoulder). You have a twenty second warm-up at fifty steps per minute on the StepMill before going directly into the test.


  • Dismounting/falling off more than two times during the warm up
  • Dismounting/falling after the test begins
  • Grasping the handrail for a long period of time or using it for weight bearing after two warnings

How to train for it: Find a staircase and use the first step (ideally eight inches high or more). Step up with one foot, then the other, then step down with one foot, then the other. This completes one stepping cycle. Aim for twenty-four cycles per minute, for five minutes. After you can complete three sets (with rest in between), add weight to your torso using a weighted vest or filled backpack up to fifty pounds. Once you are comfortable completing three intervals again, add difficulty by holding a 10-15 pound dumbbell in each hand. At this point you should reduce the intervals to three minutes each.

Event 2: Hose Drag

What it simulates: Extending an uncharged hose line and pulling it around obstacles

What you do during the event: Pick up the hose nozzle and carry the 1-¾” hose line over your shoulder or across your chest. Drag the two-hundred foot hose seventy-five feet to an industrial drum, make a ninety degree turn around the drum, and continue to the finish line. You are allowed to run while dragging the hose (the only time you are allowed to run during the CPAT). Then you must stop inside a marked box, drop to one knee, and pull fifty feet of hose to the finish line (as marked on the hose).


  • Failing to go around the drum
  • Going outside the path
  • Moving outside the boundary box or not keeping at least one knee on the floor, after one warning

How to train for it: Attach 50 feet of rope to a bag filled with weights, or a tire, or a cement block. Place the rope over your shoulder and drag it seventy feet while running. Then drop to one knee and pull the rope in hand-over-hand to bring the resistance to you. You should start with a weight that allows eight to ten repetitions with two minutes rest in between each rep. Gradually increase the weight up to eighty pounds. Perform this exercise in a large, flat area, like a parking lot or driveway.

Event 3: Equipment Carry

What it simulates: Carrying power tools from the rig to the fire scene and back

What you do during the event: Remove two saws, one at a time, from a cabinet and place them on the ground. Pick up one saw in each hand and carry them seventy-five feet, around an industrial drum and back. You can set them down and adjust your grip, if needed. Place them both on the ground and pick up one saw at a time, putting it back in the cabinet.


  • Dropping a saw on the ground
  • Running after one warning

How to train for it: Grab two thirty-pound dumbbells or two containers filled with sand or weights. Place each weight on a shelve four feet above the ground. Take the weights down one at a time, pick up one in each hand, and walk forty feet out and back. Then replace the weights on the shelf one at a time. If needed, you can start with a lighter weight and progress to thirty pounds as your strength improves.

Event 4: Ladder Raise and Extension

What it simulates: Placing a ladder and extending it to a roof or window at a fire scene

What you do during the event: Lift a twenty-four foot extension ladder by picking it up by the first rung and walking it up using each rung in a hand-over-hand fashion until the ladder is up against the wall. You will be wearing a safety lanyard during this part of the test. Then move on to a secured extension ladder. Pull on the rope hand-over-hand to extend the ladder until it hits the stop, then slowly lower the fly section hand-over-hand to the original position.


  • Missing a ladder rung after your first warning
  • Allowing the ladder to fall to the ground
  • Your safety lanyard being activated because you lose your grip
  • Failing to fully extend the ladder using a controlled hand-over-hand technique
  • Allowing the rope to slip in an uncontrolled manner
  • Stepping outside the boundary lines after one warning

How to train for it: Ideally, you need a twelve foot extension ladder, but you can manage with a single ladder, rope, and weights or a weighted backpack. Start by practicing the ladder raise. You’ll need a ladder and two adults to foot the ladder and prevent it from falling on you on accident. Follow the test instructions, raising the ladder slowly, rung by rung.

Then practice the ladder extension. Tie a weight to one end of the rope and place the rope over a tree or playground bar eight to ten feet high. Use the hand-over-hand technique to raise the weight to the top of the branch/bar and then slowly lower it to the ground. Start with a weight that makes it somewhat difficult to complete eight repetitions for three sets, with two minutes of rest between each set. Increase the weight over time, up to fifty pounds.

Event 5: Forcible Entry

What it simulates: Opening a locked door or breaching a door by using force

What you do during the event: Use a ten pound sledgehammer to strike the target’s measuring device until the buzzer sounds.Then set your hammer on the ground.


  • Losing control of the sledgehammer and releasing it from both hands

How to train for it: Wrap padding around a tree or pole, thirty-nine inches off of the ground. Mark a target in the center. Stand sideways and swing a ten pound sledgehammer so it hit the center of the target. Repeat for 15 swings, then rest for two minutes. Complete the set two more times. Looking for another way to exercise similar muscles? Try a lateral medicine ball wall slam.

Event 6: Search

What it simulates: Searching for a victim in a fire area with low-visibility and unknown obstacles

What you do during the event: Crawl on your hands and knees through an enclosed sixty foot tunnel maze while navigating over, under, and around various obstacles. The enclosed space is three feet high by four feet wide and some portions are more narrowed.


  • Requiring assistance while in the maze (including ending the event early and having an escape hatch opened or the entrance or exit uncovered)

How to train for it: Practice crawling for seventy feet on your hands and knees, making right angle turns every so often. Occasionally, drop to your stomach and crawl ten feet. Repeat the exercise wearing a weighted vest or backpack, gradually adding up to fifty pounds of weight.

Event 7: Rescue

What it simulates: Removing a victim or injured fellow firefighter from a fire

What you do during the event: Grab one or both handles on a one hundred and sixty-five pound mannequin. Drag the mannequin thirty-five feet around a drum in a 180° turn and back until it is fully across the finish line. You can adjust your grip if necessary and the mannequin can touch the drum.


  • Touching the drum or resting on it after one warning

How to train for it: Add a short handle to a heavy duffle bag. Fill the bag with rocks, or sand, or weights, starting with a somewhat heavy weight and increasing over time. Hold the handle with one hand and drag in a side-stepping manner or in two hands while taking short, backward steps. Drag the “victim” thirty-five to fifty feet, turn around and drag the weight back. Repeat eight times with a two minute rest between each trial. Continue until you can complete four drag-and-rest repetitions with one hundred sixty-five pounds.

Event 8: Ceiling Breach and Pull

What it simulates: Breaching and pulling down a ceiling to check for fire extension

What you do during the event: Hold a pipe pole and place the tip on the hinged door. Push up fully three times, then hook the pole to the ceiling device and pull the lever down five times. This makes up one set, and you will need to complete four of them.


  • Dropping the pipe pole more than one time
  • Stepping outside the marked area after one warning

How to train for it: Start with the ceiling breach. Tie a rope around a dumbbell, starting with a resistance that is somewhat difficult but allows three sets of eight repetitions with two minutes of rest between each set. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and the dumbbell between your feet. Hold the rope with one hand at thigh level and the other at chest level. Lift upwards and out, mirror the action of pushing a pole through a ceiling. Add additional weight over time as your strength improves.

Next, move on to the ceiling pull. Start with the same set up as the ladder extension exercise. Grasp the rope with one hand at chin level and one hand twelve inches above that. Pull down in a single, swift move and lower your body at the same time to raise the weight several feet in the air. Repeat for three sets of eight repetitions, with two minute recovery periods. Start with a somewhat difficult resistance and increase the weight as you improve.

Video of the Eight Event CPAT

Are you ready for the CPAT? As you practice the events, gradually link them over time, fluidly moving from one to the other without stopping in between. This will mirror the actual test. Take the practice test so you can evaluate your preparedness before test day and improve your fitness, timing, or individual events as needed.

Watch this video for additional workout suggestions!

You’ll need:

7 Tips for Training and Testing

1. Start with Stretching

  • Begin each workout with a dynamic stretching routine. A stretch strap can help you achieve this. Warming up helps improve your flexibility and performance and reduces risk of injury.

2. Upper Body Workouts

3. Core Strength

  • A strong core is crucial for preventing injuries during many of the CPAT events. Get more out of your crunches by adding a resistance band. It makes exercising your abdominal muscles and obliques more of a workout.

4. Cardiovascular Fitness

  • Don’t forget about cardio. Aerobic and anaerobic fitness are an important part of training. Aerobic fitness includes activities like running, biking, and swimming at a moderate intensity. Anaerobic fitness challenges your body and can only be sustained for short periods of time, like sprinting. The best way to improve both of these types of fitness is through interval training.
    • Start by running at an easy pace Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Gradually increase your runs from one mile to three miles over four weeks. On Tuesdays and Thursdays run for thirty seconds then walk for thirty seconds for one mile. Work up to running for ninety seconds then walking for ninety seconds for three miles.
    • Then move on to part two. Run at an easy pace for three miles Mondays and Fridays, and one and a half miles on Wednesdays. On Tuesdays and Thursdays run for three minutes, then run the stairs moderately hard for one minute, gradually increasing to three minutes of stair running.

5. Most Common CPAT Challenges

  • One of the most difficult events is the stair climber. Many people find it difficult to complete, especially without losing their balance and being disqualified. Try to practice on a StepMill climber before your test date so you know what to expect.
  • Another challenge is completing the events with the added weight. This is even more difficult if your aren’t used to it. Go through your workouts and all of the event-specific exercises while wearing a heavy backpack for practice. A weighted vest is even better because it distributes the weight evenly.
  • Watch your time. Don’t forget, you can’t just finish all of the events, you need to do it in under ten minutes and twenty seconds.

6. Cooldown with Biofreeze

  • Don’t forget to give yourself time to rest and recover. Overtraining only leads to exhaustion and injury. Be sure to get any potential injuries checked over by a doctor. For minor muscle aches and pains, use Biofreeze for cooling relief.

7. CPAT Test Day

  • Wear closed toed shoes and comfortable clothing (t-shirt or sweatshirt and long pants). No jewelry is allowed (including watches).
  • Bring your government-issued identification (Driver’s License, State ID card, Military ID, or Passport).
  • Stay calm and focused. You’ve trained for this. You’re ready!

Once you are in the academy you will continue to work on conditioning. Even when you’re a candidate/probie and eventually a firefighter, your physical fitness matters. Stay in shape using the top eight fitness exercises for firefighters!

For the latest CPAT guidelines, orientation, practice, and test dates, and answers to any additional questions, talk to your local fire department.

City of Chicago. (n.d.). CPAT Candidate Preparation Guide. Retrieved from
International Association of Fire Fighters. (n.d.). Fire Service Joint Labor Management Wellness/Fitness Initiative Candidate Physical Ability Test Orientation Guide. IAFF. Retrieved from

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