Firefighters and Physical Function: Should There Be Annual Testing?


J. Mark Van Ness: 0000-0001-5902-8735

Document Type

Conference Presentation


Health, Exercise, and Sport Sciences Department

Conference Title

2018 ACSM National Conference


American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)


Minneapolis, MN

Conference Dates

May 29 - June 2, 2018

Date of Presentation


Journal Publication

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise









Publication Date


First Page



There are more than a million actively employed firefighters in the United States. To qualify as a firefighter, one must pass the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT), a vigorous assessment of strength and endurance. Following the CPAT, there is no national or state mandate to evaluate fitness or uphold a standard of minimum physical competency. Although strength, endurance, and mobility are critical to job performance, data concerning the preservation of function throughout a firefighter’s career are scarce.

PURPOSE: To evaluate the physical functioning of firefighters.

METHODS: We enrolled 35 firefighters in California, collected demographic data, and performed a battery of tests, which included anthropometric assessments, grip strength, sit-and-reach, shoulder flexibility, vertical jump, push-ups, curl-ups, and VO2 max. We compared mean data to normative data and used multiple linear regression to test the effect of age on physical functioning, holding potential confounders constant.

RESULTS: On average, firefighters were 33.5 ± 11.8 years of age and performed 23.9 ± 3.1 curl-ups, 32.2 ± 12.3 push-ups, had a vertical jump of 59.6 ± 10.4 cm, mean L/R grip strength of 66.0 ± 12.9 kg, sit-and-reach of 5.2 ± 9.1 cm, shoulder flexibility of 20.2 ± 6.8 cm, and VO2 max of 40.1 ± 10.8 ml/kg/min. Compared to normative data, the mean firefighter had excellent grip strength, excellent push-ups, above average vertical jump, average shoulder flexibility, below average curl-ups, poor sit-and-reach, and poor VO2 max; 94.1% of firefighters were classified as poor in sit-and-reach and 58.1% were classified as poor or very poor in VO2 max. Linear regression did not find age to be a significant predictor of sit-and- reach (p=0.167) or VO2 max (p=0.319) holding other significant predictors constant.

CONCLUSION: In general, firefighters performed competently in assessments of strength, but poorly in flexibility and aerobic capacity. Age was not a significant predictor of performance in either assessment; the implication is that duration spent as a firefighter is not related to functional decline. There may not be a need for firefighters to complete periodic CPAT assessments, but they should be encouraged to improve capacities of endurance and flexibility.