Please don't talk about HR issues, @JoeNBC

by Matthew Stollak on Friday, January 25, 2013

On the drive into work this morning, I happened to tune into an all-male panel discussion on Morning Joe of the recent change in military policy to allow women in combat.  

Joe Scarborough was skeptical that women should be put on the front line given physical differences, and if lives were lost as a result of the policy it would by on the hand of the Pentagon.

Joe, Joe, Joe....

Ignoring the fact that military warfare is much different from the days of trench fighting where the need to drag heavy bodies has lessened, let's look at another similar, physically demanding job where the need to move bodies is present.


To become a firefighter, many municipalities have adopted the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT), which consists of eight separate events across a predetermined path.  It is a timed event (candidates must complete the events in 10 minutes and 20 seconds) and candidates must wear a 50-pound vest to simulate the equipment they would wear in the event of the an actual fire.  The CPAT includes:

  1. Stair climb - candidates are required to wear additional weight (two 12.5-pound weights on the shoulders) and to walk on a StepMill, which is situated between a wall and an elevated platform, at a stepping rate of 60 steps per minute for three minutes. The handrail of the StepMill opposite the wall is removed. Prior to beginning the timed event, each candidate performs a 20-second warm-up at a rate of 50 steps per minute. There is no break between this warm-up period and the actual timed test event. If the candidate falls or dismounts the StepMill three times during the warm-up period, he or she fails the test. If the candidate falls, grasps any of the test equipment, or steps off the StepMill during the timed event, the test is concluded and the candidate fails the test.
  2. Hose Drag - the candidate grasps a six-pound nozzle attached to four lengths (200 feet) of attack hose (1 1/2 inch diameter), places the hose over the shoulder and across the chest (maximum 8 feet), and drags the hose 75 feet along a marked path (cones) to two pre-positioned 55-gallon drums that are secured together and weighted. The candidate makes a 90-degree turn around the drums, continues an additional 25 feet, and then drops to at least one knee at the finish line.
  3. Equipment Carry - the candidate removes two 32-pound saws from a tool cabinet, one at a time, and places them on the ground. The candidate then picks up both saws, one in each hand, and carries them 75 feet around a drum and then back to the starting point. The candidate then places the saws on the ground, picks up each saw one at a time, and replaces them in the designated space inside the cabinet.
  4. Ladder Raise and Extension - This event uses two portable 24-foot aluminum extension ladders, one ladder is lying on the ground and hinged at one end to a wall and the other ladder is secured in a vertical position. During the event, the candidate lifts the ladder on the ground by the unhinged end and walks underneath the ladder while raising it to a stationary position against a wall. The candidate then proceeds to the other ladder and stands in front of it with both feet inside a marked-off area and extends the fly section of the ladder hand-over-hand until it hits the stop.
  5. Forcible Entry - the candidate uses a 10-pound sledgehammer to strike a forcible entry machine calibrated to measure the cumulative force of 300 pounds of pressure based on the effort required to force open a door. The candidate's feet must remain outside a toe box assembly. The forcible entry machine is mounted 39 inches on center from the ground (typical location of a standard exterior door knob).
  6. Search - the candidate crawls on hands and knees through a dark tunnel maze that is approximately 3 feet high, 4 feet wide, and 64 feet long, with two 90-degree turns. At various locations in the tunnel, the candidate must maneuver around, over, and under obstacles. At two additional locations, the candidate is required to crawl through a narrowed space where the dimensions of the tunnel are reduced.
  7. Rescue - he candidate grasps a 165-pound mannequin (the minimum weight a firefighter must be able to drag to meet the physical demands of the job) by one or both of the harness shoulder handles (simulating the shoulder straps of a firefighter's SCBA) and drags it 35 feet to a pre-positioned drum. The candidate then makes a 180-degree turn around the drum and continues to drag the mannequin an additional 35 feet totally across the finish line.
  8. Ceiling Breach - the candidate removes a pike pole from a bracket and stands within an area inside the framework of the equipment. The candidate places the tip of the pike pole on the target area (a ceiling assembly eight feet above the ground containing a hinged door and handle) and pushes up (breaching action) on the hinged door with the pike pole three times. The candidate then hooks the pike pole onto the handle of the ceiling assembly and pulls downward five times. The candidate repeats the set (three pushes and five pulls) four times. The standard ceiling height of a residential structure is eight feet. The force required to breach the ceiling is 60 pounds and the force required to pull the ceiling is 80 pounds. Three breaches followed by five pulls will provide a four-foot by eight-foot examination opening within a structure.
Again, candidates must be able to complete the above tasks in sequence in a short amount of time.  If they are not able to complete all tasks as demonstrated with only occasional room for error (for example, in event 4, if a candidate misses any rung during the ladder raise, one warning is given; the second infraction constitutes a failure. If the ladder is allowed to fall to the ground or the safety lanyard is activated because the candidate completely releases the grip on the ladder, the test time is concluded and the candidate fails the test).  

Many women will fail this test.  So will many men.  But, many women will succeed.  

Today, the U.S. Fire Administration estimates that there are nearly 11,000 women firefighters in the country.

If 11,000 women can pass the CPAT, many military women can pass whatever physical test the Pentagon throws at them, and should be given the opportunity to do so.

So, please Joe...leave the HR talk to the professionals.

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