Updated 20 March 2013

Are you fit enough to be a firefighter?

Could you take the heat? Find out what it means to be "fire fit".

To get some idea of how fit one needs to be for fire fighting, we spoke to the Volunteer Wildfire Services (VWS), and the City of Cape Town's Fire and Rescue Service (CTFRS).

Wildfire fighting
To qualify for active duty on the fireline with VWS, you need to commit to about five months of regular training sessions during the off-season, beginning in April/May annually.

Training involves learning to use firefighter equipment and working as a team, among other skills. Patrick Ryan, VWS media and marketing manager, points out that, "Training is not just for fitness; it's to pass on the knowledge and skills the person will need to fulfil their role within the unit."

At the end of the training period, you need to pass a "pack test": carrying a pack weighing 7-12 kg over a distance of roughly 4.7km within 45 minutes. The fitness requirement for working on the skid unit (fire-fighting pump unit carried on a vehicle) is to complete the distance in 60 miniutes.

VWS firefighters must also pass a basic medical examination when they join.

Volunteers keep their fitness levels up with additional activities, such as hiking. Ryan says: "VWS has recently started three levels of informal fitness training aimed at assisting with the rigorous task of wildfire firefighting.

"The first do hikes at medium to fast pace for about two hours. The second work on stamina, explosive strength and core strength. The third group do pack runs with heavy packs, alternating with a higher level of stamina, explosive strength and core strength training. Members can move between the groups and we've found it to be a great team-building experience. This happens throughout the year and new recruits are welcome to join in."

Intake of new VWS recruits takes place in March annually. There are units based at Newlands, Cape Town; South Peninsula and Jonkershoek. See How to Join the VWS.

Structural firefighting
To become a professional firefighter, which requires being able to fight various kinds of structural and wildfires, fitness requirements are more stringent. Rob Stamatiadis, a Learner Firefighter with CTFRS, explains what it takes to enter the service:

CTFRS firefighters must meet two fitness standards. The first, the minimum fitness standard to join, involves being able to do the following:
  • Run 2.4km in 11 minutes
  • Do 30 sit-ups in 1 minute
  • Bench press 15 kgs, 15 repetitions
  • Fireman's Carry (across the shoulders) someone of similar bodyweight to yourself 100 metres.
  • Climb a ladder to the 3rd floor displaying correct technique and confidence
  • Negotiate a tunnel system with a blacked-out mask.
Applicants also undergo a full medical examination including vision, hearing, lung capacity and flexibility tests.

If you make it through the entrance tests and become employed by the Fire Service, you'll have to undergo an annual Physical Ability Test (PAT) to gauge fitness. This involves a series of exercises, a short rest and then the Beep Test which is a run between two points 20 metres apart, done at a progressively increased frequency until you can no longer complete a lap before the beep sounds.

The first part of the PAT is performed in full firefighting gear, comprising boots, bunker trousers, tunic, helmet and breathing apparatus (wearing the set, but not on air).

The exercises are as follows:
  • 30 step-ups onto a stepping board with a 65mm hose slung over each shoulder. (2 x 20kg).
  • Tyre pull: drag a truck tyre 30 metres with a short length of hose.
  • Hose pull: pull 30 metres of 45mm hose, hand-over-hand method, with a tyre attached to the end.
  • Ladder pitch: pitch a straight/single ladder (approximate 4 metres long), then raise a 25 litre foam drum filled with water (25kg) up to the first storey window and lower it again, by means of a rope running through a pulley.
  • Take the ladder down.
  • Foam drum carry: Remove two foam drums from a stand 1.2 metres high, carry them 50 metres and return to the stand. (2 x 25kg).
  • Tyre drag: drag a large truck tyre 20 metres using a strap of hose around the forearms.

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