Federal agencies waive some training and testing requirements in response to COVID-19 pandemic

In some cases returning employees will not have to take the Work Capacity Test this year

pack test Arizona
Members of the Tribal Nations Response Team take the Work Capacity pack test in Sacaton, AZ January 22, 2016. Photo by Tom Story.

The Fire Management Board has provided guidance on how federal agencies with wildland fire responsibilities will make adjustments to annual wildland fire training and physical testing activities this year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Work Capacity Tests, including Pack Tests, are suspended in 2020 for some returning employees.

The annual refresher training, RT-130, is also not required this year. Instead, employees are encouraged to complete a self-study refresher utilizing the WFSTAR videos and support materials. The Board recommends that the study include topics that focus on entrapment avoidance, related case studies, current issues, and other hazards and safety issues.

To compensate for hands-on fire shelter training, employees should watch the “New Generation Fire Shelter” video, according to the new temporary guidelines.

These temporary procedures apply to all previously qualified Administratively Determined (AD) employees as well as applicable hand crews, engine crews, water tenders, equipment contracts, and agreements.

Different rules and procedures apply for new employees. Here is a link to more details and the official memo from the Fire Management Board.

US Army to adopt gender- and age-neutral fitness test

“We think the success of this study can transfer over to law enforcement, wildland firefighters, and other federal agencies,” said an instructor about a training program they have devised to prepare ROTC personnel for the Army test.

Some people have said that the Pack Test version of the Work Capacity Test required for many wildland firefighters in the United States does not adequately reflect the tasks performed on the job. Criticisms are that it has a bias toward individuals with long legs and does not sufficiently address flexibility, strength, speed, coordination, and agility. Others disagree, saying it can weed out those unfit for the job.

We created a poll on the subject:

The U.S. Army has developed a new Fitness Test that is reported to be gender- and age-neutral. To prepare and train their ROTC personnel for the test Colorado State University has designed a training regimen. Perhaps the federal land management agencies could glean some ideas from either the Army Fitness test or the training program being developed by CSU.

Below is an excerpt from an article on Colorado State University’s web site:


For more than 30 years, the U.S. Army has tested the strength and endurance of its soldiers through a battery of pushups, sit-ups and a two-mile run known as the Army Physical Fitness Test.

But soon the Army will replace this legacy test with a new gender- and age-neutral assessment consisting of six events — deadlifts, farmer’s carries, sled pulls and much more — that will impact personnel around the globe as well as right here at Colorado State University.

To prepare for the change coming in October 2020, CSU’s Army ROTC program is part of a pioneering study with the Department of Health and Exercise Science that examines the most effective training plans for the new Army Combat Fitness Test.

Lt. Col. Troy Thomas, commander of Army ROTC programs at CSU and the University of Northern Colorado, has personally endorsed the study and encouraged his cadre to pursue the most effective protocol for the 150 cadets, 28% of whom are female.

“On average, we have about seven contact hours per week with our cadets, and less than half of those hours are dedicated to physical fitness,” he said. “What we discover as the best protocol will elicit the most efficient and effective results of those three hours to achieve our scholar-athlete-leader outcomes.”

The research so far suggests hybrid training as the most effective option, and it has attracted attention and support from the U.S. Army and U.S. Department of Defense. According to the researchers involved in the study, it also could have a profound impact in helping U.S. Army Cadet Command prescribe fitness regimens to help ROTC cadets train for the new test.

“Colorado State is at the cutting edge of producing a combat fitness protocol for a very select population,” said Al Armonda, a CSU military science instructor who helped lead the study. “This falls well within our land-grant mission in filling a gap in the force that the Army needs.”

The new Army Combat Fitness Test consists of a series of six challenges designed to better connect certain fitness aspects with combat readiness such as strength, endurance, power, speed, agility, balance, flexibility, coordination and reaction time.

But for Army ROTC programs across the country, this presents a challenge.

An active-duty soldier can schedule four or five 70- to 90-minute training sessions in a typical week. For an ROTC cadet, Armonda said finding the time to properly train for the new fitness test can be difficult as they are first and foremost students.

In spring 2019, ROTC leadership and Armonda’s research team conducted a first-of-its-kind study comparing and contrasting several Army Combat Fitness Test training regimens.

The 10-week pilot study with 30 cadets showed strong evidence that a full-body, hybrid training approach — aerobic and anaerobic training, weight-lifting, body-weight exercises, plyometrics and high-intensity intervals — is far more effective than the traditional training regimens that focus solely on muscular endurance and aerobic exercise.

[…]

Department of Defense officials recently visited CSU to observe the training program and learn how they can provide support and assistance. Additional workout equipment, some of which has already been procured, is necessary as the new test requires deadlift bars, kettlebells and pullup stations. And researchers are currently launching a more robust study with 60 cadets for more statistical power.

Armonda said that the study has additional applications beyond the Army, noting that it can also be beneficial to first responders, many of whom start their careers in the U.S. military.

“Because of the constricted time frame that we have to actually complete these fitness requirements, we think the success of this study can transfer over to law enforcement, wildland firefighters and other federal agencies,” Armonda said…


Click here to see the entire article, including photos and videos.

Physical fitness test for wildland firefighters used in Alberta, Canada

This video shows the physical fitness test, WFX-FIT, used to evaluate wildland firefighters in Alberta, Canada.

The Pack Test version of the Work Capacity Test and the Step Test used by the Federal agencies in the United States basically measure how fast you can walk and how low you can keep your pulse rate, respectively. The Step Test was replaced by the Work Capacity Test.

The WFX-FIT used in some areas of Canada, which first saw widespread use in 2012, is described as “a valid job-related physical performance standard used to determine whether an individual possesses the physical capabilities necessary to meet the rigorous demands encountered while fighting wildland fires.” Here is a link to more information about the test.

Your thoughts on the WFX-FIT test?

Alaska emergency firefighters to undergo medical exams starting in November

Alaska EFF firefighters
The Kobuk River #2 Type 2 EFF Crew working on a fire in the Lower 48 in 2018. AFS photo.

The Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service in partnership with the Department of Interior Medical Standards Program (DOI MSP) will soon provide medical exams to federal Emergency Firefighters (EFF). The goal of the exams is to increase safety by identifying pre-existing conditions that could be aggravated by the arduous duty of wildland firefighting.

The medical exams will be provided in approximately 28 Alaska villages through mobile medical units and by scheduled appointments at 18 facilities throughout the state.

Starting in November EFFs in Alaska who are hired on an as-needed basis will need medical exams once every three years and self-certify in between years. The medical screening established by the DOI MSP will screen EFFs for any disqualifying medical conditions prior to participating in the Work Capacity Test (WCT), otherwise known as the pack test. Only wildland firefighters performing arduous duties are required to undergo medical exams and pass the WCT.

Schedules for the exams will be posted on the BLM AFS EFF webpage .

For the past two years, Alaska EFFs were granted exemptions to these medical screening requirements. The first phase of implementation of the medical exams began in 2015 and only included regularly employed Department of the Interior wildland firefighters. Applying the requirements to Alaska EFFs was originally planned to begin in 2017, but implementation was delayed until measures were in place to provide mobile units in rural Alaska to conduct the medical examinations. The exams do not include drug testing or affect State of Alaska EFFs.

There is no cost to the EFF for the examination, however, if the individual chooses a location other than their local village BLM AFS will not cover the associated travel costs. After the exam is completed, a determination will be made regarding the candidate’s eligibility to participate in the pack test and the arduous duty of wildland firefighting.

The BLM AFS provides wildland fire management for the Department of the Interior and Native Corporation lands in Alaska and provides oversight of the BLM Alaska aviation program. Firefighter safety and the safety of the public are core values and are fundamental in all areas of wildland fire management.

For more information, EFF candidates can email AFS_EFF@blm.gov or call EFF Program at 1-833-532-8810 or (907)356-5897.

 

British Columbia firefighters beginning their wildfire season with the fitness test

British Columbia wildland fire personnel are coming back to work for the season and one of the first things Type 1 firefighters do is take the Canadian fitness test. The WFX-FIT, which first saw widespread use in 2012, is described as “a valid job-related physical performance standard used to determine whether an individual possesses the physical capabilities necessary to meet the rigorous demands encountered while fighting wildland fires.”

Canada firefigher fitness test

The components of the  WFX-FIT, after pre-participation screening are:

WFX-FIT circuits

Firefighters must complete all of the tasks within 14:20 or 17:15 minutes, depending on the province and the location (in or out of the province) of the assignment.

We wrote more about the Canadian fitness test last year.

Canada firefigher fitness test Canada firefigher fitness test

The photos were provided by the British Columbia Wildfire Service.

Good weather for the Pack Test in Arizona

While a blizzard was hitting the eastern U.S. on Friday, firefighters in Arizona were taking the Pack Test.

Pack Test Arizona
Members of the Tribal Nations Response Team take the pack test in Sacaton, AZ January 22, 2016. Photo by Tom Story.

There was no snow slowing down the members of the Tribal Nations Response Team who took the pack test in Sacaton, Arizona on Friday. The team, which supplies personnel for Type 2 IA, Type 2, and camp crews, draws many of its members from the Gila River, Fort McDowell and Salt River-Pima-Maricopa Indian Communities in the Phoenix area, as well as the Pascua Yaqui Tribe south of Tucson.

All the participants easily completed the test and after their safety refresher or S-130/S-190 class will be ready to go.

pack test Arizona
Members of the Tribal Nations Response Team take the pack test in Sacaton, AZ January 22, 2016. Photo by Tom Story.