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The making of a firefighter

Patrick Sullivan performs a hose pull as part of physical fitness testing by Memorial's Allied Health Services.

By Michelle Osmond

No one imagines the job of a firefighter as being an easy one. But what firefighters go through to qualify for the job is no easy task either. Potential candidates have to pass a gruelling physical fitness evaluation that leaves them exhausted, sweating and sometimes even vomiting from the exertion.

Recently, Memorial University's Allied Health Services (AHS), a part of the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation, was asked to perform the tests for the upcoming recruitment round of the St. John's Regional Fire Department (SJRFD).
The test involves seven measurements of fitness representing the demands of firefighting including a VO2 max test, which measures aerobic fitness, a hose advance test, rope pull, simulated forceful entry, simulated victim rescue, a ladder climb and a vehicle extraction task.

AHS previously conducted the VO2 max test for potential firefighters, but the rest was new to AHS. Once they made the decision to offer the testing, however, co-ordinator Liam Kelly had 103 voicemail messages on his phone in a 24-hour period. He said that the "huge" response was unexpected and that it meant putting the testing together in a very short time frame.

"It wasn't easy," Mr. Kelly explained, "but we knew we had the resources and the expertise. First, we had to find a standardized protocol that represented the physical requirements of firefighting, find a facility that would work, we had to get the tools built, buy mannequins and hire graduate students. We also had to figure out how to adjust the testing based on a wood floor versus a concrete floor. There were a lot of small details that had to be worked out."

The protocol AHS decided to follow is the Canadian Forces Fire Marshal's (CFFM) firefighter pre-entry fitness evaluation. Those who pass the tests, get a certificate stating they've met the CFFM requirements.

Patrick Sullivan was in the group going through the first round, which started on Oct. 8. He's wanted to be a firefighter since playing one in a kindergarten play and is finally able to follow that dream.

He found the testing to be very challenging, both physically and mentally.
"I had a good idea of what to expect because on the Allied Health Services' website, they lay out what the testing consists of," explained Mr. Sullivan. "But it was definitely harder than I expected because you don't realize how physically and mentally demanding it really is until you're in the middle of it and your body is telling you to stop but your mind is telling you to keep going."

Happily, Mr. Sullivan passed the test, in the end.

AHS is a network of services focused on enhancing health, athletic performance, education and research. It is the only accredited fitness testing facility in the province. In addition to firefighter fitness testing, AHS provides physical abilities requirement evaluation (PARE) testing for police officers as well as ergonomic assessments, health promotion, injury management and sport performance services.

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