TRAINING WOMEN FOR THE P.A.T.
In 1983 the Los Angeles City Fire Department embarked on a program to actively recruit and train women as firefighters. Like many other departments throughout the country, we are making a valid and faithful attempt to provide strength/conditioning training for women prior to their taking the firefighter physical abilities test, or PAT. Some departments, despite their best efforts, have problems qualifying individuals to meet entry-level physical standards. Our department’s policy is to maintain hiring standards while giving all candidates the opportunity to meet those standards. Therefore, we provide pretraining to help women reach the strength and conditioning levels necessary to pass the PAT.
We established the Pre-Training Academy, complete with conventional weight-training equipment, a pretraining program, and experienced staff members. To ensure that the candidates would meet the PAT standards, we expanded the pretraining system to include a 40-hour-a-weck regimen that develops upper-body strength and conditioning abilities. The system was flexible enough that unsuccessful candidates could reenter programs for further training.
In 1989 the system, originally designed by weight-training and bodybuilding coaches, was modified to take a more scientific approach. We established a resource network of professors from nearby universities who specialized in the field of exercise science, including the discipline of kinesiology. Then we assessed the weight-training programs that were designed to strengthen the muscles used in the four PAT events. We found that the program did not increase the women’s strength enough to meet PAT requirements.
Our current program is based on the following exercise science principles:
- Specificity training—the design of exercises that duplicate the exact movements and body positions on which the individual will be tested.
- Progressive resistance training— based on the principle that resistance in exercising begins at a minimum level and increases as strength improves.
It took about seven months to integrate the revised exercises into the program. The revisions have brought up to a 400 percent increase in success rates. Almost 90 percent of the women trained under this system who have taken the PAT have passed.
The revised training system, which serves women within a widely diverse range of ability levels, required a number of administrative changes, such as reorganizing and retraining staff, designing new forms for data collection, and designing and manufacturing training equipment inhouse.
THE PHYSICAL ABILITIES TEST
The PAT is administered by the Los Angeles City Personnel Department, an entity separate from the fire department. The test is comprised of four events that are task-specific to the position of firefighter. Adequate levels of physical fitness are required to successfully complete the four tasks.
Each event is rated separately on a pass/fail basis. If a candidate fails to meet the standard of any event, the test is terminated at that point. A candidate must pass all four events to receive a passing mark. A rank order is not given or recorded.
The following are descriptions and requirements of each PAT event in order of administration.
Step lest. Candidates wear a breathing apparatus harness and bottle that is weighted to 50 pounds. The candidate steps over a two-step platform repeatedly for 10 minutes. This measures cardiovascular respiratory endurance and simulates high-rise stair climbing. In all, 215 steps are required to pass. The candidate is allowed a five-minute rest before advancing to the second event.
Halyard pull. Candidates are required to raise to a height of 15 feet a 70-pound weight attached to a halyard. Three consecutive repetitions of fully raising the weight up and down are required within 90 seconds to pass. The event requires grip strength, upper-body pulling strength, and muscular endurance. It simulates raising the fly section of a 35-foot wooden extension ladder.
Hose drag/hydrant manipulation. Candidates run 125 feet to a hydrant while carrying a 28-pound, four-way valve with 100 feet of dry 2 1/2-inch hose attached. The valve is attached to the hydrant; another valve then is removed from a nearby hydrant and carried back to the starting line. All of the hose then is pulled past the line. The evolution must be completed within 75 seconds. The event requires manual dexterity, speed, and agility and simulates hoselay evolutions.
Ladder lift. Candidates lift a 20-foot wooden extension ladder from the ground and place it on a five-foot-high ladder rack. The ladder then is replaced on the ground. Candidates must complete one lift within 90 seconds. The event simulates placing and removing a ladder on an engine company and requires upper-body strength.
The specificity training exercises of our program duplicate the exact movements and body positions of the PAT. Our equipment is designed to duplicate the equipment used in the PAT: The size, shape, and balance of the equipment are identical; only the weight of our equipment has been adjusted to suit each candidate’s abilities.
This type of training is similar to that used for Olympic weight lifting, or power lifting. Olympic athletes train using the exact movements of the competition events. They begin by performing the movements with light resistance, then as strength and form improve, resistance is increased.
(Photos by Bruce Corbitt.)
Candidates begin training on the step test with the 50-pound bottle pack for eight minutes. After two weeks the duration of the exercise is increased to 10 minutes. By the fourth week candidates are training for 12 minutes.
Halyard pull training begins with pulling 50 pounds. As strength increases, the resistance is increased in 2 1/2-pound increments. The training device was fabricated to duplicate the testing device but is flexible enough to allow the resistance to be varied.
The hose drag/hydrant manipulation training begins with candidates learning the techniques used in pulling the hose and attaching the fourway valve to the hydrant. After two weeks the candidates perform the entire evolution three to five times a day.
The ladder lift exercise begins with specially designed training ladders whose length, size, and balance are identical to those of the testing ladder. Only the weight of the ladders has been altered. The ladders were modified from salvaged ladders that were no longer certified for fireground use. Candidates begin with the ladder appropriate for their abilities and progress to heavier ones as their strength increases.
Our program begins with an active recruiting plan that includes advertising. Our Recruitment Guidance Unit coordinates career orientations for prospective female firefighters three to four times a year. The two-hour orientation outlines employment requirements and career benefits and includes an overview of the training process and duties.
FEMALE TUTORIAL TRAINING PROGRAM
Interested women are invited to register for the voluntary Female Tutorial Training Program, designed to prepare women to meet the strength and conditioning requirements of the next phase of the program, the PreTrainee Program. As part of the tutorial, candidates are enrolled in 1 ‘/2-hour specificity training classes conducted three times a week at night.
Instruction is standardized through the use of an exercise videotape produced in-house. In it female firefighter peer instructors explain and perform the exercises. Candidates are motivated by the fact that these women are successful firefighters. The video begins with a series of warm-up and stretching exercises, followed by the specificity exercises. Instructors also are required to view the video to ensure uniformity of instruction.
An independent study program is available for those who cannot attend classes at the academy. The exercise program can be completed with available equipment at local school gymnasiums, at YWCA facilities, at private health clubs, or at home.
Candidates are told the minimum levels they will be required to meet by the end of the eight-week tutorial. Then on the first day they are given a primary strength/conditioning evaluation to help establish exercise resistance levels. By the time they receive their secondary evaluation, they are expected to achieve these minimum requirements to pass the tutorial: 8minute step test—152 steps, 55pound halyard pull —5 pulls in 3 minutes, 65-pound ladder life—5 lifts in 3 minutes, and grip test—30 kg.
The events of the strength/conditioning evaluations, with the exception of the grip test, mirror the FAT events. Grip strength is highly correlated to success in pulling the halyard in the PAT. In accordance with specificity training protocols, the required values of the evaluation are at lower resistance levels than those of the PAT. The required values for these events serve as a reliable indicator of the candidate’s chances of passing the PAT after completing the Pre-Trainee Program. The reliability of these values has been determined through analysis of the testing data by our network of exercise scientists. The validity of these values has been substantiated by the success rate of the specificity training candidates.
Tutorial candidates who meet or surpass the minimum requirements advance to the next phase. Those who don’t can reenter the tutorial at a later time.
PERSONAL QUALIFICATIONS PROCESSING
This next phase is conducted by the city personnel department and takes six to 12 weeks to complete. Candidates are given personal history and medical examinations. During this time no specificity training classes are held. Candidates receive biweekly monitoring evaluations, at which staff members give guidance regarding any strength/conditioning problems that exist. Three weeks prior to the next phase (the Pre-Trainee Program) candidates receive a final evaluation, which they must pass in order to proceed. Unsuccessful candidates reenter a tutorial.
Candidates proceed to the PreTrainee Program, where they prepare to pass the PAT and the civil service interview. Pre-trainees are paid 65 percent of the firefighter I salary. They work 40 hours a week for eight weeks, focusing on specificity training and cardiovascular respiratory development. They receive daily instruction on oral interview presentation techniques. Subjects taught include firefighters’ duties and responsibilities, department organization, the safe use of tools and equipment, policies and procedures, and training requirements.
At the end of the eighth week candidates take the PAT. If successful, they are given the civil service interview, which determines 100 percent of their eligibility scores. Pre-trainees who receive a high interview score generally are selected for one of the next three fire academy classes. They continue strength conditioning and studying until their classes begin. Those with lower scores reenter the Pre-Trainee Program.
Many prospective candidates drop out after orientation when they learn of the demands placed on them to become firefighters. Out of the 541 women who attended orientation from 1989 to 1990, only 86 enrolled in our program. The Personal Qualifications Processing phase generally has a nearly 50 percent attrition rate, but this is true for all firefighter candidates, regardless of ethnic group or gender.
Our training efforts to help women pass the PAT have been successful. Our success rate the first year was 88 percent. We have seen improvements of nearly 200 percent over 1988 and of 400 percent over 1987. This success can be attributed to a number of factors: Many firefighters and paramedics volunteer their time and effort to make the program work, our recruiters work with the city personnel department to solicit better-qualified candidates, and the program itself has been redesigned to more closely meet its objectives.
The issue of physical abilities testing is a controversial one. However, departments don’t necessarily have to lower their standards. Instead, they can increase their candidates’ abilities to meet established standards with a pre-training program.