This is partly because you absolutely have to pass them to proceed further in the process, and partly due to a fear of the unknown, as the majority pf candidates won’t have experienced these types of test before.
What do these tests measure?
The fitness tests measure your VO2 max capacity. Sounds scary, but more simply put, this is your aerobic capacity, or maximum oxygen uptake.
This is a scientific measurement to find out how fit you are, and to help the fire service determine the limits of your endurance. Stamina and fitness are crucial attributes for a firefighter – when you’re in an emergency situation that can be very physical there is no place for individuals who are going to flag or tire easily.
The Beep test
The beep test, also sometimes referred to as the ‘bleep test’, is more formally known as the ‘multi stage fitness test’.
This test is a standardised assessment of a person’s fitness levels. It’s a simple but powerful test that allows the FRS to estimate your VO2 capacity and ‘benchmark’ you against the fitness requirements for the role – in short seeing if your fitness is up to scratch.
The test involves running back and forth between two points 20m apart. Each run is synchronised with a pre-recorded audio track which plays beeps (hence the name) at regular intervals.
Over the course of the test, you will progress through various ‘levels’ – on average these last for around a minute. The beeps will come faster and faster with each new level reached. At the point where you fail to reach the line before the beep, the test will end, and this will become your score.
The vast majority of participants will finish before they reach level 13, which takes less than 14 minutes. If you made it to this stage you’ll have run just over 2.5 km. The average score is between levels 8 an 12, and the pass mark for the majority of FRSs is 8.8.
The Chester Treadmill/Step Test
This is a 12 minute long treadmill walking test, designed to identify individuals capable of reaching the required fitness standard of 42 Vo2 max. It’s a brisk paced walking test which requires you to use your leg muscles to climb gradually increasing gradients.
The treadmill pace will be set at 6.2 km/hr (3.8 mph) and the incline at 0% for 2 minutes. After this the gradient will be increased by 3% every two minutes.
This is unless you reach 80% of your maximum heart rate, or a high RPE (rating of perceived exertion). There will then be a ‘cool down’ period.
Your oxygen uptake is calculated from measures of ventilation and the oxygen and carbon dioxide in the expired air, and the maximal level is determined at or near test completion. You will be asked to wear equipment to collect and analyse your expired air during the test (usually via a mask on your face) and hooked up to a heart rate monitor.
Less commonly the test is performed on an exercise bike. The resistance will gradually progress in increments from moderate to maximal intensity. However, the issue with this method is that subjects unaccustomed to cycling may experience fatigue earlier than during a walking test (due to local muscle fatigue) before their VO2 max has peaked.