I’m still waiting for my official ELPAT results (they won’t be out until the Fall!) but I wanted to share what the experience was like for me while it was still fresh in my mind.
With only two weeks’ notice, I received an email with the date for my scheduled ELPAT (I of course knew it was coming, but wasn’t expecting it so soon). This is the second half of the eligibility process for Massachusetts fire fighters. The process is a little confusing for those who don’t know, so I’ll start by explaining how it work. If you are familiar skip down a little bit.
Everyone who wants to apply to become a firefighter in most towns in Massachusetts must go through the civil service process. Every two years, the process restarts, and a new list is created. Once a list is created for each town, the Chief can start interviewing from the list, if they have job openings. The list is created based on the applicants test scores. 50% of your score comes from the written exam, and 50% comes from the strength test. If you are a Veteran, disabled vet, or had a father die in the line of duty, you get moved to the top of the list. No, it doesn't help that I'm a woman. In it a nutshell, it’s a long process with no guarantee of ever being hired.
Step one is to pay $200 to apply to the state of Massachusetts Civil Service. Then you take the written Civil Service entrance exam, which is held on the same day for everyone at different locations across the state. It’s a 3 hour multiple choice test that includes a life experience survey, work styles questionnaire, and a written ability test.
After the written exam, you receive your ELPAT (Entry Level Physical Abilities Test) date. To see what the test is like, watch this super retro video. I took this test once already back in 2016, and I passed every event except for one. This year I was determined to pass them all. To train for the 2016 test, I did about 5 months of strength training 2-3x a week, and little cardio here and there. This year, my training involved more cardio, hiking, and less strength training, more about that later.
During the test, you wear a helmet and a 20 pound weighted vest. This is meant to simulate the equipment you would wear as a fire fighter on the job. There are 7 events in the test, and you move through them pretty quickly. You have 2 test monitors giving you instructions and timing you for each event. There’s a lot of adrenaline pumping. I was so nervous before the test, I got really cold, and my hands started to lose circulation. I thought I might possibly be going into shock….
Let me back up and explain a little bit more about what this whole process was like for me from a body image perspective. 2 years ago, I remember being in a much different place with my self-esteem, body image, and eating disorder mentality. I was slowly gaining weight to restore my body after hitting my lowest weight, but fighting it the whole time. I remember telling myself that I needed to have some weight on me so that I could have the muscle and strength it took to do the test. I was in a daily battle against my Eating Disorder brain. I’d step on the scale each morning, and if I didn’t like the number I’d immediately want to fix it by restricting what I ate that day. The other part of me was there to say “No, you need this weight, you need to be strong, you won’t be able to pass this strength test if you continue to lose weight, remember what your college sports nutrition professor (shout out to crazy Dr. Tyzbur from UVM, I still remember what you taught me) said, as a female athlete, when you lose weight, you also lose muscle, if you lose weight, you get weaker, you need that muscle!!! You need to be STRONG” This was the mental dialogue I used every day to be ok with putting on some weight. The most annoying part of having an eating disorder was that I was so aware of what it was doing, and how insane it was, but I still had to have these daily pep talks with myself to snap out of it. It was like I knew better, but the eating disorder part of my brain was so strong, it took a long time for my logic to override the crazy eating disorder voice.
This year, I have a much healthier body image, eating pattern, and relationship with the scale. I also have a better relationship with exercise, and have been choosing things that I enjoy, instead of just doing things I felt I had to do. I don’t feel like I am any less strong this year as a result. In the past 6 months, I’ve learned the true connection between exercise and my mood, and I’ve been using exercise to battle mild depression symptoms. So nowadays my exercise plan looks a lot more like walks in the woods with my dog, sporadic jogs for the fun of it, yoga, and a new class called pulse-x which is cardio + strength training. I was willing to see if my unstructured training plan got me ready for the ELPAT. I believe it did, and it was also nice to let the pressure off of myself, and trust my body, something new for me.
Ok, so back to the day of the test. You show up to the Hudson Armory, and sign in. Then an EMT or a nurse takes your vital signs to make sure you are fit to test. You then move into a room and watch a video that explains the test process (the same retro one from above). Then you go into the testing room and wait for your number to be called. Once they call you up, you get fitted with a 20# weighted vest. I never expect it to feel as heavy as it does. This year I took the extra time to make sure it fit comfortably. Once you are in the vest, you step onto the stairmaster for 1 minute to warm up, and then for 3 minutes and 20 seconds at a pace of 67 steps per minutes. You are not allowed to touch the handrails. This was way harder than I anticipated, but the test monitor said “You are making this look easy.” I can’t tell you how much the test monitors can help you through this whole experience.
After your time is up, you put on a helmet and sit in a chair for 5 minutes to let your heart rate come back down, and then it’s on. Two test monitors come over and bring you through each event. I’m not going to explain every one because that would take too long. The one I failed last time was the hose pull because you only have 20 seconds to do it, and it’s hard. They tell you that you have to run like a bat outta hell and they ain’t lying. This year I took an extra second to throw the hose over my shoulder and clamp it down across my waist (Thanks for the tip Matt Parlante). I think it helped, but I still don’t know if I passed!
Last time as I was leaving the test monitor whispered, “you did great, but you missed the hose pull by a couple seconds”. This time, there was no secret sharing of my results, but as I walked away from the final event, I heard one of my monitors say to the other, “She did good!”
I honestly felt really good about the whole thing. It was hard, but I felt like I crushed it. I’m proud of my body, and how far I’ve come in my recovery, and that’s the real victory here, no matter the results.