Be a Firefighter >> Browse Articles >> Five Steps to Becoming a Firefighter


Step 4: Preparing for the Academy

Step 4: Preparing for the Academy

Battalion Chief Paul Lepore and Stew Smith, CSCS

Mental Conditioning

It is extremely stressful to prepare for a manipulative exam knowing that if you don’t perform you will lose your job. Everyone in the academy has to perform to the minimum standards. There are NO exceptions. Being able to perform under pressure is critical. Remember, the training staff is there to help you be successful. The department has invested time and believes in you. It’s up to you to perform.


You will be exposed to information about a myriad of different topics while in the academy. You are expected to know every piece of information that has been presented. You will be tested on it weekly, sometimes daily. This is one of the reasons we encourage you to take fire science and EMT courses prior to getting hired on the fire department. The more background a candidate brings to the table, the greater the chances of success.

The academy is extremely fast-paced. Those who did not have previous experience to draw from definitely have a more difficult time. Learn how to study before you enter the academy. Find a place where you can sit down and get away from the world and immerse yourself in the books. Set it up beforehand; don’t wait until you start the academy to figure out where you are going to study.

Form study groups early. Take a look around and try to identify who appears to be focused on making it through. There is no doubt that there is a benefit to having someone to bounce questions off. He or she may interpret the reading material differently than you and key into something you may have misinterpreted. In addition, he or she will pick you up when you are struggling, and vice versa.

Take fire science courses prior to entering the academy. The more background and exposure you have to the fire service, the better you will fare. Remember each night you will be assigned a ton of reading. You are physically exhausted after being on the grinder all day long. It is difficult to maintain concentration to sit and study for a written exam the next day. The more information you have before entering the academy, the easier the material is to digest in a shorter time frame.

Physical Conditioning

Many candidates believe that simply passing the physical agility exam means that they are physically prepared for the job. The physical agility test is not even close to the exertion you will go through in the academy. If you barely pass the agility test, you are in trouble. Each day you will go home sore, bruised and strained. Due to the fast pace of the training academy, your body does not have a chance to recover from one day to the next. Many fire departments require that their entry-level recruit firefighters complete the physical EACH DAY as a part of their morning physical fitness routing. The recruit who barely passed the exam to get hired will be in big trouble as the academy progresses. The academy is not the time for a recruit to get in top physical condition, rather it is the time to weed out those who are not prepared.

The better your physical condition, the greater the chance your body can adapt to the rigorous training. It is imperative to be in the best shape possible. If you aren’t, you are going to get hurt, make mistakes, or worse yet hurt someone else.

How to Get in Shape

This special section is written by Stew Smith, CSCS, former Navy SEAL and fitness author of six published books and more than 35 ebooks and test prep guides on military, law enforcement, and firefighter training.

When you arrive at the academy, you will be placed in a stressful environment and expected to excel in firefighter education, close quarter living, team work, and daily physical fitness events. Though each department differs in testing exercises and measuring criteria, most NEW firefighter personnel will be tested in challenging and physically demanding events. Most will use the CPAT – Candidate Physical Assessment Test. For those who properly prepare themselves, the academy PT can be just another workout – a stress reliever even!

Why show up at your academy unprepared for the physical fitness standards that you KNOW you will be tested on? You would be surprised but many people are physically unprepared for life in the military, fire and rescue, and other public service professions when they arrive. Why make life any more stressful than it already is? If you show up fit and able to pass your CPAT or other firefighter test easily, the fitness part of the academy will be a STRESS releaser – not a STRESS INCREASER.

You have to run at the academy – so run now! Refer to my Six Week Running Plan for ideas to increase endurance and speed. And you have to do pushups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and lift heavy objects while climbing stairs – so practice doing those things as well.

EVEN if you are not going into a fire academy, this type of functional training is beneficial to building endurance and muscle stamina and long lasting strength. Here are the exercises of all the Candidate Physical Assessment Tests (CPAT) and helpful tips to increase your overall score on test day:

Continue >>