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.”
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.
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.
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…