My firefighter fitness test shows I’m getting older and faster… say WHAT?

I shaved HOW many minutes off my time?
I shaved HOW many minutes off my time?
As a volunteer with our local fire department, I am required to take an annual physical agility test to prove I can, among other things, walk a balance beam and drag 100 pounds of concrete mix — things we often do as construction workers firefighters. The test includes seven stations that need to be completed during a running clock within 15 minutes or less. And there’s no station called “refreshment swig” or “brownie lift.”

I asked.

The seven stations of the test are:
1) Crawl and Lift: Cross the fire station bay on your hands and knees three times, stopping to lift a 20-pound roll of fire hose over your head each time. Think of it as shopping on Black Friday.

2) Hose drag: Pretty much what it sounds like. Drag 100 feet of hose for 50 feet in one direction, then the other. Kind of like taking your kids to the grocery store.

3) Lift and Carry: A dummy weighing 100 pounds is lifted and carried 30 feet in one direction, then carried back. I’ve seen this happen in bars at closing time.

4) Ladder Carry: Demonstrate the proper lifting technique and carry the ladder 50 yards in one direction, set it down, pick it up and carry it back. This is similar to helping your wife move furniture.

5) Hose lift: A 20-pound roll of hose is tied to a rope and lifted 50 feet hand-over-hand, then lowered the same way. Rinse and repeat two more times

6) Balance beam: Walk along a 4×4 beam without falling off. Sober.

7) Nozzle assembly/disassembly: Join together several lengths of hose using a series of fittings and nozzles, then disassemble them. It’s similar to putting Ikea furniture together.


When I took this test five years ago after completing the recruit academy, I was just glad to pass with a time of 11:46. It wasn’t anything to brag about, but at 43 years old it wasn’t bad for the oldest guy in the academy — a fact that I was often reminded of by my fellow recruits, many of whom still ate Skittles and Mountain Dew for breakfast. Finding a tube of Ben Gay in my jacket pocket or a pair of Depends in my boots wasn’t uncommon, and neither was the “accidental” discharge of my firehose into someone’s backside. It was all in good fun, however, and today I count these firefighters as my good friends and people whose hands I would — and have — put my life in.

A few of the nearly 50 members of our local volunteer fire department during our annual Hamburger Feed fundraiser. And no, we don't raise the funds to buy hamburgers...
A few of the nearly 50 members of our local volunteer fire department during our annual Hamburger Feed fundraiser. And no, we don’t raise the funds to buy hamburgers…

Last year, in addition to the fitness test, I also took the Pack Test, which is a requirement for all wildland firefighters. Essentially, you wear a 40-pound vest and walk three miles within a certain amount of time. I’d like to say it was three days, but I believe it was closer to 18 minutes or less. Again, I didn’t set a record but managed to finish with about three minutes to spare. However, the real challenge came after that, when I had to take my annual fitness test with only 10-minutes to rest in between. Given that my “younger” time was 11 minutes, I was a little concerned about not passing. Possibly because using a defibrillator every few minutes would cost me valuable time.

Instead, I heard “That’s 10:27, firefighter Hickson.”

I asked for the time again, thinking I had actually left my body and was hearing the medics call my time of death.

“You heard it right. You almost shaved a minute and a half off your time,” said the proctor. “You DO know you’re getting older, right?”

Those words echoed back to me last night as I got into position for this year’s test, realizing one month from today I’ll be turning 48. As the same proctor readied his stopwatch, he reminded me I had 15 minutes. “No need to kill yourself. You’ll have plenty of time.”

“In the afterlife?” I said.

“Ready… set… GO!”

In the interest of time and space — because I’m sure everyone in the known universe is watching this — I’ve edited the video by clipping out some of the repetition, such as me repeatedly passing out or trying to hand $20 to the proctor if he’ll let me skip a station or two. You may notice I’m carrying a rolled-up fire hose instead of an air pack. That’s because it simulates the weight without tying up an actual air pack in the event of an actual call. Plus, I think someone might’ve accidentally filled all the tanks with helium instead of air.

The next segment picks up with the ladder carry and includes the hose lift and balance beam. Unfortunately, I accidentally deleted the part where I do a back hand-spring off the end…

This last segment picks up with the end of the balance beam and moves on to the final station, which is the nozzle assembly/disassembly. You’ll notice I have a little trouble at one point because I didn’t realize the strap from my flashlight was getting into the threads. I’ve never liked that flashlight…

Yep, you heard it right.

Time: 8:55.

I don’t understand it either. That’s almost a two-minute improvement. Who knows? At this rate, by the time I’m 70, I’ll be done before I get started!

I want to thank firefighter PJ Crescioni for capturing what I believe is proof that there’s a gap in the space-time continuum…

(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, or Barnes & Noble.)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

71 thoughts on “My firefighter fitness test shows I’m getting older and faster… say WHAT?”

  1. Hickson, you are a rock star! (and you take instruction?) Wowza!

    In all seriousness, my brother-in-law just finished this training at 59. It is not easy. Well done my friend, both your improved time & your commitment!

    1. Lol! Thanks, Lynn 😉

      And that’s fantastic and very inspiring about your brother-in-law. Please congratulate him for me. I hope to be involved for many years, or at least until they give me a siren hat and tell me I can only drive my bicycle to fires.

  2. The proctor made a timing error Ned. In segement 4 at :01 he is heard saying it is 8:04. At 1:25 into the segment he says “You are at 8:28 right now” It should be 9:28. At 1:54 he says time is 8:55. It should be 9:55. But you still shaved a minute off.

  3. Do you workout during the year in between these fitness tests? Or maybe you just had a really great breakfast? Good for you for not perpetuating the common notion society has about growing older 🙂

    1. Let’s just say the last time I was at the gym on a regular basis, people were working out to “Let’s Get Physical” by Olivia Newton John.

      I do have a membership, though, so that counts for something — right? 😉

  4. Yep, I drove my ex crazy because I kept rearranging our ladder. “Try it next to the piano next.” That was possibly my favorite part of this post!

    Congrats on your speed, but I’m still marveling over all your writing sparks that burst into my combustible laughter.

  5. Well done. Just think about how much quicker you might have been if you hadn’t put the dummy down at the first end and the string from your flashlight hadn’t interfered. Man. I’ll have some of what you’re having if it will stop the aging process lol

    1. Thanks, Darla! I take your lack of snarkiness as a real compliment. If I DO go on Survivor, I promise not to get weird and naked. Or not naked anyway.

  6. I’ve always had a ‘thing’ about firemen (as we call them over here) but like policemen they seem to be getting younger (too young?) every year. Good on you Ned – a fireman who’s mature and getting fitter…;)

      1. I think our policemen still just carry a truncheon. I assume that’s what’s in their pockets;)

  7. I wanna be a firefighter!! I was mostly cracking up because I know how funny you are and to see you so serious was hilarious. I kept waiting for a Jimmy Fallon voice over 😉
    Admittedly, I stressed a couple of times and hollered, “Run Ned!” Then I remembered that I knew how it ended and you had plenty of time. Very cool post!!

    1. Haha! It would be really fun to take those clips and do a voiceover, wouldn’t it! (That horrible grinding sound you hear is my wheels spinning).

      And yeah, we’re not allowed to run. Only sashay.

  8. Very impressive, Ned…for some reason I had gotten the impression you spend large amounts of your days hiding fake poo for your son…well, maybe that activity has brought out the sportsman in you!

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