Physical Abilities Test (PAT)

Physical ability testing for public safety positions.


Physical abilities are an important part of most law enforcement and fire service positions. Firefighters must be able to climb stairs, carry heavy equipment and drag unconscious victims. Police must be able to chase down and physically control suspects. Physical Ability Testing  is critical for your successful public safety agency hiring. IOS follows best practice methods when developing and validating PATs, and uses established and well-tested measures to assess candidates’ physical ability. However, each organization is unique and each administration site is different. IOS will work with you to establish and validate specific measures that are right for your agency and will ensure that the Physical Abilities Test is properly constructed for your specific administration site.

Methods for Assessing Physical Ability

Job Simulation Method

This model ensures each candidate meets the physical requirements for firefighter or police officer positions. Job simulations assess a candidate’s physical ability through a series of high-fidelity physical simulations, or simulations that closely mirror the exact physical activities that might be encountered on the job. By assessing candidates’ ability to perform physical tasks that closely mirror the tasks of the actual job, the job simulation is able to identify candidates who meet the physical requirements for firefighter or police officer positions. Job simulation physical ability testing typically follows a single hurdle approach, where an overall cut-off time is established – i.e., individual events are not timed. Job simulation physical ability testing should never be gender or age-normed for the cut-off point as this is logically inconsistent with this type of PAT.

IOS specializes in the development of Job Simulation Physical Ability Tests. There are two main components to this model – linking test activities to actual job content and determining an appropriate timed cut-off score. Both of these components are essential to ensure that any job simulation is valid and appropriate for use to select qualified applicants.

Fitness Based Method

This model ensures each candidate meets the physical requirements for firefighter and police officer positions. A fitness-based PAT operates on the premise that a physically-fit candidate is more likely to competently perform physical job tasks. Fitness-based physical ability testing typically has​ multiple hurdles where individuals must successfully complete each exercise/activity in a given time. Some fitness-based models are normed based on gender and age, though this is legally questionable based on many court case findings.

Most physical job tasks of firefighters and police officers are time-sensitive so it is essential that the test performance occurs within an acceptable time period. One of IOS’ core services in this area is to work with your organization to establish cut-off scores that accurately identify minimum competency. IOS does not espouse norm-based cut-off scores as it is legally questionable to do so.

IOS PAT Key Points


    • Medical Waivers: Agencies should mandate that each candidate who participates in the PAT first get medical clearance from their physician. Agencies should have medical waivers as part of their standard physical abilities test administration process.
    • A PAT will ensure that minimum fitness requirements are met without discrimination.
    • Valid and legally defensible: Physical ability tests are susceptible to legal scrutiny due to their tendency to produce disparate passing rates for males and females. On many tests, females tend to pass at rates lower than males and in many cases, the difference between these rates raises legal challenges for the testing agencies. The best defense against potential legal scrutiny for physical ability testing is to ensure that 1) the test was properly developed and validated locally, using best practices in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and 2) that the cut-off point is set at legally defensible and appropriate positions to differentiate between the qualified and unqualified applicant – i.e., identifying the minimally qualified cut-point. If both properties of physical ability testing are established, then the test will be a fair and appropriate selection tool.
    • On-site Administration: IOS will administer physical ability testing and/or develop training manuals to ensure that an agency’s proctors are sufficiently prepared and knowledgeable to administer their own testing.
    • Same day test result reporting: Since testing is conducted live with candidates, results are typically provided to candidates immediately after they complete their test. Official test scores are provided to agencies once all test takers have completed the Physical Abilities Test and scores have been aggregated into a final list. This typically takes a few days after the physical ability testing is completed.


Police Officer Physical Abilities Testing Process

Event 1

Title: Car Exit

Equipment: Police squad car or equivalent

Description of Event: Candidates will be seated in the driver’s side of a squad car with a fastened seatbelt. Candidates will be wearing a 10-pound weighted vest that will remain on throughout the duration of the course. Timing will begin once the candidate opens the squad car door. Candidates should unbuckle their seatbelts before exiting the vehicle. Upon exiting, candidates must close the squad car door.

Purpose:  Ensures candidates can quickly and safely exit the vehicle with simulated weighted vest.

Event 2

Title:  Obstacle Weave

Equipment: 5 traffic cones

Description of Event: After exiting the vehicle, candidates will be required to weave through five traffic cones. There will be tape on the ground curving around the cones that will guide candidates through the weave pattern.

Purpose: Simulates pursuit of a suspect through crowded/obstructed streets, alleyways or shopping centers.

Event 3

Title: Duck Under

Equipment:  2 barricade traffic horses

Description of Event: Candidates will encounter two barricades (i.e., traffic horses) under which they must duck, crawl or slide. The objective of this component is for candidates to get themselves under the obstacles without displacing them or knocking them over.

Purpose: Ensures candidates can crawl under obstacles they may encounter in pursuit of a suspect.

Event 4

Title:  Stair Climb and Descent

Equipment: Stairs

Description of Event: Candidates will climb X flights of stairs. During this process, candidates should exercise caution when ascending and descending the staircases. Hitting every stair is recommended as a safety precaution, and no jumping should be allowed.

Event 5

Title: Wooden Fence Climb

Equipment:  Wooden fence of X height (6 foot is typical).

Description of Event: Candidates are required to scale the 6-foot wooden fence. There are two footholds located on the wooden fence that candidates are allowed to use to assist in climbing the fence. Once the candidate has reached the top of the fence, he/she should carefully lower his/her body over the other side of the fence. Candidates should not stand on top of the fence and jump down. This could result in an injury that disqualifies the candidate from the test (and further consideration).

Event 6

Title:  Jump-overs

Equipment: Floor mats

Description of Event: Candidates will encounter two jump-over obstacles. Candidates are required to jump over the obstacles without coming into contact with them. Examples of obstacle dimensions: 10 inches high and 26 inches wide.

Event 7

Title: Chain-link Fence Climb

Equipment:  Chain-link fence

Description of Event: Candidates are required to climb the 4-foot fence. Candidates are not allowed to swing their body around the fence when engaged in this obstacle component. That is, a candidate’s entire body must go over the fence.

Event 8

Title:  Suspect Grapple

Equipment: Flyweight or cross-cable machine, punching bag.

Description of Event: This station will have a weighted punching bag hanging from a fitness machine. Candidates must grab the bag and then proceed to pull the bag downward to one of the targets located on the floor on either side of the bag. The bottom of the bag must be positioned on the target area. Candidates must then bring the bag upward in a controlled manner until the bag is fully retracted. Candidates must then lower the bag onto the opposite target area in the same fashion. The bag must be returned to its up position in a controlled manner before exiting the station. If at any time a candidate loses control of the bag, he/she will be instructed to begin this component over.

Event 9

Title: Dummy Drag

Equipment:  165-lbs. rescue randy, clothing, protective skid device, harness

Description of Event: The candidate will drag a dummy (165 lbs. dummy plus protective clothing—totaling no more than 185 lbs.) for a total of 50 feet (25 feet, around barrel, back 25 feet). The candidate may lift the dummy under the armpits or drag using harness handles.

Event 10

Title:  Gun Dry Fire Simulation

Equipment: 165-lbs. mock gun, gun ring stand, gun ring (18-inch diameter hoop).

Description of Event: Once the candidate reaches the gun ring located at the front center of the stage, he/she will be required to dry fire using a mock gun while keeping his/her arm steady inside the ring. The candidate is required to cock the gun, insert his/her arm through the ring, fire the gun and withdraw his/her arm from the ring. This motion will be immediately repeated with the opposite hand. When firing the mock gun, the candidate’s arm cannot touch the sides of the ring at any point.

Success or Failure Criterion: Separate timed event from other events. If the candidate’s arm touches the ring, the candidate will have one more opportunity to test on this course component. If the candidate is unable to complete this component successfully in two attempts or less, the candidate will be disqualified from the Physical Abilities Test.

Firefighter Physical Abilities Testing Process

Event 1

Title: Charged Line Advance

Equipment: Sled prop or actual charged hose-line

Description of Event: The candidate will drag a weighted sled or charged hose-line (hose-line filled with water, under positive water pressure) for a distance (e.g, 200 feet) along a predetermined pathway. If used, the sled weight will be determined by calculating the pull-force (lbs. of resistance) necessary to advance a charged hose-line.

Purpose: To determine if a candidate is able to advance a charged hose-line, which requires a great deal of force.

Success or Failure Criterion: Dragging the weighted sled or charged hose-line across the predetermined distance.

Event 2

Title: Ladder Carry

Equipment: 14 foot roof ladder (28 lbs.), ladder brackets mounted to a fixed structure

Description of Event: The candidate “unloads” a 14-foot roof ladder from brackets mounted at a height reflective of the height it would sit on an engine. The candidate then carries the ladder a total distance of 100 feet and then remounts the ladder on the brackets.

Event 3

Title: Ladder Extension

Equipment: 24-foot extension ladder, mounting hardware

Description of Event: The candidate will raise the fly section of a standard 24-ft. extension ladder and then lower it in a controlled manner. The ladder will be affixed to a permanent wall.

Event 4

Title: Ladder Heel

Equipment: 24-foot extension ladder, hinged base bracket, belay device, rope, break

Description of Event: The candidate will heel a 24-foot extension ladder. The ladder will be secured with a hinge bracket at the base and a belay device at the top.

Purpose: To ensure that a candidate can quickly and safely climb a 24-foot extension ladder.

Event 5

Title: Equipment Carry

Equipment: 15-lb. kettle ball, 25-lb. kettle ball, platform/shelf/box

Description of Event: The candidate will carry a total of 40-lbs. (one 15-lb. kettle ball and one 25-lb. kettle ball) to simulate carrying a piece of equipment. The candidate will lift each kettle ball off a platform, carry the kettle balls together for a distance of 150 feet (75 feet, around a cone, then back 75 feet), and then replace the kettle balls on the platform. The platform height will simulate the height of an engine compartment.

Event 6

Title: Forcible Entry

Equipment: Keiser Sled, sledgehammer

Description of Event: Candidate will mount a Keiser Sled and will use a sledgehammer to move the sled completely down the track.

Event 7

Title: Stair Climb

Equipment: Hose pack; 50 feet of 2½ inch line bundled; stairs

Description of Event: The candidate will climb up and down a stair tower while carrying a hose prop that weighs the same as a standard apartment load. The candidate will ascend to the roof (5th floor) and then descend (4 full flights).

Event 8

Title: Hose-line Reel

Equipment: 200 feet (4 sections) of 1¾ inch line

Description of Event: The candidate will reel in uncharged 1¾ inch hose-line from a kneeling position while staying within a painted box. 200 feet of line will be laid out and the candidate will reel-in line until a “50-foot” marker crosses the front line of the painted box.

Event 9

Title: Ceiling Breach and Pull

Equipment: Ceiling Breach Simulator

Description of Event: The candidate will position the pike pole in the target diamond on the breach portion of the simulator and perform 3 breach repetitions. The candidate will then hook the pike pole onto the pull portion of the simulator and perform 5 pull repetitions. This sequence will be repeated for 4 total cycles.

Event 10

Title:  Dummy Drag

Equipment: 165-lbs. rescue randy, clothing, protective skid device, harness

Description of Event: The candidate will drag a dummy (165-lbs. dummy plus protective clothing—totaling no more than 185 lbs.) for a total of 50 feet (25 feet, around barrel, back 25 feet). The candidate may lift the dummy under the armpits or drag using harness handles.

How Physical Abilities Test Overall Results Are Used

Job Simulations

Job simulation physical abilities tests typically follow a single hurdle approach, where an overall cut-off time is established—i.e., individual events are not timed. In a job simulation, there may be multiple distinct events that are separate from the overall obstacle course simulation—i.e., gun dry fire simulation, aerial ladder climbs. Final results are typically used in a pass/fail manner.

Fitness Based

Fitness-based physical abilities tests typically have multiple hurdles where individuals must successfully complete each exercise/activity in a given time. Failure in any event would lead to the failure on the overall Physical Abilities Test. Some fitness-based PATs may have a point-based system, which requires obtaining enough points to pass—but this is less common.

PAT Support Materials, Training Guides and Videos

In order to enhance candidates’ overall performance on physical ability testing, IOS recommends developing a training guide or video for candidates. Some agencies have hosted live training events for candidates to practice prior to the live examination.

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Physical Abilities Test - PAT
Service Type
Physical Abilities Test - PAT
Provider Name
Industrial Organizational Solutions,
1520 Kensington Road, Suite 110,Oak Brook,Illinois-60523,
Telephone No.(888) 784-1290
PAT - The Physical Abilities Test is critical for accessing Fire or Police applicants. Let IOS develop your agency's customized physical ability testing.