Test hampers hiring of firemen
Tracy B. Cieniewicz, Hartselle Enquirer
A new state required endurance test for prospective firefighters might spark problems for the Hartselle Fire Department as it seeks to fill two certified firefighter positions.
The Alabama Fire College and Personnel Standards implemented the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) statewide on Jan. 1. Firefighter candidates must pass the new exam before being accepted to state fire colleges.
Hartselle Fire Chief Rickey Joe Smith said the CPAT has time restrictions that make it difficult for smaller fire departments, like Hartselle's, to quickly recoup from personnel losses.
"Candidates must be given eight weeks to prepare for the test," Smith said. "If they pass, the state only allows 120 days for the candidate to enroll in a fire college. The college takes three months to complete. The CPAT tests and fire college registrations don't always coincide."
Smith also said the CPAT's failure rate is 70 percent.
According to CPAT requirements, candidates must perform the following eight tasks in 10 minutes and 20 seconds or less: stair climb, hose drag, equipment carry, ladder raise and extension, forcible entry, search, rescue, and ceiling breach and pull.
The stair climb is performed with a 75-pound backpack at a rate of 50 steps per minute for three minutes. The remaining seven tasks are performed with a 50-pound backpack.
Smith said with nine city employees and volunteer firefighters currently preparing to take the CPAT in mid-March, it could be as late as August before certified firefighters are working in the departments unfilled positions.
Hartselle candidates will take the CPAT in the city of Madison. Those who pass will register to attend the Huntsville Fire Academy in May.
Smith said only one of the two positions available with the department is permanent.
Firefighter Dwain Fairbanks is retiring after more than 18 years with the HFD on Feb. 1. Firefighter Stuart Namie has been called to active duty with the Army Reserves. His position will be held, but a temporary replacement is needed.
Smith agrees that the CPAT is a good hiring tool in that it guarantees a firefighter is physically capable of meeting the rigorous physical requirements of fire fighting, but he thinks the state should allow candidates more time to enroll in a fire college after passing the test.
"The state used to allow one year to certify firefighters," Smith said. "With the difficulty of the test and the 120-day deadline, the CPAT creates problems for small fire departments like us. Weather conditions have to be just right for the CPAT tests, fire college registrations are few and far between, and passing the CPAT does not guarantee job placement. I think the deadline should be extended to at least six months."
The Hartselle Fire Department currently has 12 full-time certified firefighters, including Smith, and 25 volunteers. Smith said each of Hartselle's two fire stations are manned by two firefighters each day.