College of Southern Nevada opens firefighter physical testing facility

By opening the region’s first full-time firefighter Candidate Physical Ability Testing facility, the College of Southern Nevada aimed to meet a community need, but the facility could turn out to be a moneymaker for the college, officials said

As Greg Gammon, director of Fire Science for CSN and the former chief of the Las Vegas Fire Department, on Thursday surveyed the 25,000-square-foot facility during an open house, he noted that firefighter applicants can use the testing facility as a pathway to a job with any fire department in the United States.

The facility, which looks more like an empty warehouse than a training center for a job known for saving lives, is packed with different tests that applicants must successfully complete in 10 minutes and 21 seconds.

The grueling proving ground could be used by thousands of local and out-of-state applicants at a cost of $150 each, Gammon said. It will also meet the need of local fire departments that no longer will have to expend money to give their own physical ability testing to job candidates.

For $150, candidates will be given three chances in a month’s time to pass the rigorous test, Gammon said.

Firefighter applicants are expected from all over the Southwest. Before the CSN facility, there were three full-time facilities in Southern California and one in Arizona. There is a three-month backlog for using the facilities in California, Gammon said.

While CSN has more than 750 students in their fire science and emergency medical technician programs, local fire and CSN officials believe the number of applicants seeking to use the college’s facility could number 7,000 or more.

The course is composed of eight tests that will try even the most ardent gym rat.

Gammon explained, “You could have all the muscle in the world, but you have to have a lot of cardio endurance to pass the test.”

It starts with each candidate doing 3 minutes on a stair-mill carrying 75 pounds of weights to simulate a firefighter’s gear. A candidate will lose 25 pounds of those weights as they move on to the 150-foot hose pull. They must then carry a circular saw and chain saw and lift and extend a ladder.

Candidates then swing a 10-pound sledgehammer against a wooden target to produce 800 pounds of pressure — it takes most candidates six to nine swings.

Candidates then have to crawl through a 65-foot-long, enclosed and blacked-out search-and-rescue obstacle course.

If a candidate survives the claustrophobia, they must finish the course by pulling a 165-pound dummy and using a pike pole to push up and pull down 25- and 85-pound weights to simulate ripping open a roof from inside a structure 32 times.

All in about 10 minutes.

After each test, the applicant is medically checked out by the proctors — local firefighters and paramedics paid by CSN as part-time employees — to make sure their vital signs are OK.

Gammon said CSN fire science and emergency medical technician students can take three tests for free as it is worked into their tuition.

CSN’s vice president for finance Patty Charlton said the lease arrangement for the building, purchasing of some new equipment (the college already had some equipment needed to conduct the testing) and payment for the proctors will cost a little more than $100,000.

But Charlton estimates, conservatively she said, that the facility could see a profit of about $200,000 in its first year.

Profits could be higher if the more than 7,000 candidates expected to apply for local firefighter jobs through Southern Nevada Fire Recruitment — the merged firefighter recruiting consortium made up of the Clark County, Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson, Boulder City and Pahrump fire departments — each pay $150 to use the facility.

The physical testing is only a portion of an applicant’s process in becoming a firefighter. There is an online written exam, oral interviews and background checks that candidates must pass.

The facility opened Aug. 25 and is almost booked through November, Gammon said.

To learn more about the CPAT requirements, visit CSN’s Division of workforce and development website.

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