Work Capacity Test — 2002 brochure
Work Capacity Testing for Wildland Firefighters
Promoting Wildland Firefighter Safety
Wildland Firefighting and other forms of field work demand a high level of fitness to safely perform arduous, day-long work in difficult environmental conditions, including steep terrain, extreme temperatures, altitude, and smoke, and to meet unforeseen emergencies. When prolonged hard work is involved, fitness is the most important factor in work capacity.
Work capacity is a composite of fitness, acclimatization, nutrition, skill, experience, motivation, and intelligence. Fitness is the most important factor. Fitness has two components, aerobic and muscular strength.
Aerobic fitness is a measure of your ability to supply working muscles with the oxygen they need to perform vigorous day-long work. When you can deliver and use oxygen efficiently, you can do work without undue fatigue.
Muscular fitness includes strength, muscular endurance, and flexibility. Strong workers can lift and carry heavy loads with less fatigue or risk of injury. Muscular endurance enables you to continue working at otherwise fatiguing tasks. And flexibility means a better range of motion that lowers the risk of injury.
Work Capacity Tests
Some jobs, like firefighting, require passing a job-related Work Capacity Test to meet minimum qualifications. Such tests help ensure that prospective workers have the capacity to perform work without undue fatigue and without becoming a hazard to themselves or coworkers. Most wildland firefighters must meet minimum levels of fitness requirements for the type of duties they are assigned:
Arduous work involves above average endurance (aerobic fitness), lifting more than 50 pounds (muscular fitness), and occasional demands for extraordinarily strenuous activities. All wildland firefighters perform arduous duty.
Moderate work involves lifting 25 - 50 pounds, and occasional demand for moderately strenuous activity. Safety officers and fire behavior officers perform moderate duty.
Light work involves mainly office-type work with occasional field activity.
The Pack Test
The Pack Test is a 4.83-km (3-mile) hike over level terrain carrying a 20.5kg (45 pound) pack. To qualify for arduous fireline work, you must complete the pack test in 45 minutes or less. Tests taken at altitude should be adjusted (see table).
Jogging during the test is not permitted. A score of 45 minutes correlates with a step test score of 45 or a 1.5 mile-run time of 11 minutes 40 seconds, the previous standard for wildland firefighters. The Pack Test is not a competition, it is pass/fail only.
The energy cost of the Pack Test is similar to fireline work. Pack Test performance relates directly to muscular fitness. Because of the test distance, the Pack Test is an excellent indicator of the capacity to perform prolonged arduous work under adverse conditions with a reserve to meet unforeseen emergencies.
The First Step
Before you begin training or take the Work Capacity Test, all persons must fill out a Health Screening Questionnaire (HSQ). This must be done prior to conditioning for, or taking, any level of the Work Capacity Tests (WCT). The HSQ will be reviewed by a Servicing Human Resource Office prior to engaging in any of these activities. The Safety and Health Resource Office will determine whether a person is cleared to start conditioning, take a WCT, or will need further medical evaluation is needed.
People taking any of the Work Capacity Test (i.e., light duty, field test or the pack test) shall only take the test necessary for their red-carded position as described in the Wildland and Prescribed Fire Qualification System Guide (NWCG Publication PMS 310-1) and must be made available for fire assignment.
Training for the Work Capacity Test
Once you are cleared to begin training, here’s what you’ll need:
Start training a minimum of 4 weeks before you are scheduled to take the test. For work hardening, you may want to train in the boots you will wear on the job. Ankle-height hiking or sport shoes should be worn during the test for ankle protection.
For the Pack Test, begin by hiking a 3-mile flat course without a pack. When you can cover the course in less than 45 minutes, add a pack with about 25 pounds. Increase the weight until you can hike 3 miles in 45 minutes while carrying 45 pounds.
Also, hike hills with a pack to build leg strength and endurance. Jog the flat course without a pack to build aerobic fitness. Do overdistance training for stamina, and crosstrain with mountain biking and weights to build endurance and strength.
Work hardening is a gradual progression of work-specific activities designed to bring you to the job ready to deliver a good day’s work. While fitness training provides the foundation for work capacity, it is no substitute for job-specific work hardening.
Prior to reporting for work applicants are strongly encouraged to train for the appropriate level work capacity test they need to take.
For more information:
Personal health, physical fitness, and work capacity all work towards making conditions safer for firefighters and the people they protect. Ask your local fire management office for more information.
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