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Hagerstown Fire Department requires rigorous physical test

April 08, 2001

Hagerstown Fire Department requires rigorous physical test



By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

kimy@herald-mail.com

If you think you have what it takes to be a Hagerstown City firefighter, consider this:

Every firefighter recruit must pass the following agility test:

-- Raise and then lower a 35-foot extension ladder;

-- Carry a 60-pound hose through a narrow stairway four flights;

-- Raise and then lower a 45-pound hose up a fourth-floor window;

-- Drag a 130-pound dummy down to the first floor;

-- Slam an eight-pound sledge hammer down on a railroad tie 20 times.

And, all these physical tasks must be done in less than 10 minutes wearing cumbersome, protective clothing weighing 30 pounds.

Those that do complete the agility test usually do so within five minutes, said Hagerstown Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker.

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Every two years the Hagerstown Fire Department conducts the agility tests for recruits at their training center off Frederick Street.

In March, 44 firefighter candidates tested their mettle on the pass-or-fail agility course. Thirteen failed and 31 passed, said Hawbaker.

In addition to the agility test, recruits must pass a written test and a series of interviews to be considered for a career firefighter position, he said.

The agility test is tough, but physical fitness is a job requirement for firefighters because of the risk of heart attacks, he said.

"Imagine being in a dead sleep and then hearing loud sirens and noises. Your heart starts pumping 40 miles per hour as you race to a house fire," he said.

The fire department has 57 employees who are given extensive annual physicals to maintain safety, he said.

Hagerstown's career firefighters range in age from 19 to 58, said Hawbaker, 53.

It is crucial for fire departments like Hagerstown to maintain physical fitness because they have a limited staff, he said.

"A career firefighter is expected to be able to perform every duty," said Hawbaker.

An in-house gym with modern fitness equipment is available for all career and city volunteer firefighters to help keep them in shape, he said.

Hagerstown firefighters Rob Hoover and James Sprecher III demonstrated portions of the agility test at the training center Wednesday.

"It's stuff you would be doing on any given day," at a fire scene, said Hoover, 30.

Pounding the sledge hammer simulates the movement used to pull down roofs or smash windows for ventilation, he said.

Hoover said he found carrying the 130-pound victim to be the hardest part of the test.

"Some people give it a bear hug and carry it down. Other people have to drag it," he said.

For Sprecher, hauling the 45-pound hose up to the fourth story - and then lowering it - was a chore because of the upper-body strength needed, he said.

The entire test requires a lot of stamina, said Cooper.

"A lot of guys don't pace themselves and wear themselves out before they're finished," said Hoover of Williamsport.

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