Agility testing

The 100-pound training dummy the Fort Dodge Fire Department uses for training is a little rough around the edges. It’s missing part of one leg, has chunks gone from its plastic head and proudly wears a collection of stains, smudges and scrapes.

For a group of 18 applicants who had passed their written exams to become firefighters, it would be one of the last tasks they would have to handle as part of the physical agility testing – dragging it from one end of the fire station to the other end.

It might make them feel about as worn out as the abused training dummy looked.

Fire Chief Kent Hulett said the department designed the course to reflect the sort of tasks a firefighter will encounter while working. The test began with dragging a 100-foot hose, then turning on a hydrant, setting up a ladder, climbing through a simulated attic space and, finally, the body drag.

They do all of this while wearing a vest with 50 pounds of weight in it.

To come up with an acceptable passing time, they used the firefighters already on the department.

“We put all of them through the course,” Hulett said.

As he watched the applicants, he recalled his own test.

“I was totally exhausted,” he said. “I went through this with 300 others in Rockford (Illinois).”

Josh Sneller, of Ankeny, is already a part-time firefighter with the Ankeny Fire Department. He said he spends time each week working out to stay in shape.

He had little difficulty with the agility test, he said. Instead, he finds challenges in the classroom.

“The science behind the fire is more difficult,” he said.

Jon Schreck, of Carroll, is a three-year veteran of that town’s volunteer department. His dad, Greg, is also his chief.

“He came up here with me,” Schreck said.

He said his dad is behind him 100 percent.

Hulett said that in addition to the physical agility test, applicants also undergo a test to check for a fear of heights by having them climb a 50-foot ladder and claustrophobia by having them wear a blacked out face mask and then follow a hose on the floor through a room.

“Neither are ideal conditions,” Hulett said.

Physical fitness is essentially a job requirement for firefighters.

“It’s a big part of the job,” he said. “You can go from zero to 60 in a few seconds. This is tough. You need to practice.”

For the applicants who passed their agility test Saturday, they will become part of a two-year ability list that the department can use to fill positions in the future.

Hulett said applicants are subject to an interview, background check and a physical. They are also required to have their EMT certification before being tested and have two years to become paramedic-certified after they are hired.

Unfortunately, not everyone passes the physical test.

Megan Johnson, of Dayton, almost made it. She was done in by the heavy training dummy.

“That was the worst part,” she said.

A volunteer Dayton firefighter and EMT who is working on her paramedic certification, she’s not giving up.

“I’ll try again,” she said. “Hopefully.”