National firefighter agility testing center opens in Homewood

  Alex Griff swings the sledge hammer at the red marker.
  With enough force, a buzzer on the simulator will
  sound to indicate the firefighter has broken down
  a door. It is one of the exercises at the Mutual Aid
  Box Alarm System (MABAS) center in Homewood.

  (Photos by Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)
 
Start with a 50-pound weight simulating a firefighter's coat, pants, boots, gloves, airpack, mask and tools and an additional 25-pound airpack for high rise fires.  
 
Then try to climb 18 flights of stairs, carry a person weighing 165 pounds, extend a ladder, carry heavy tools, break through a door or wall, crawl through a darkened maze, breach a ceiling and pull at least 100 feet of hose.
 
And, do it all in a time of 10 minutes, 20 seconds.
 
Successful candidates will earn a Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) certification needed to be considered for full- and part-time firefighter positions in Homewood and Flossmoor.
 
The CPAT simulation tests not only strength and agility but focuses on the health and wellness of firefighters, said South Holland Fire Department Deputy Chief Bryant Krizik.
 
  Alex Griff of the Hazel
  Crest Fire Department
  drags a 165-pound
  dummy,  one of the
  exercises fire department
  recruits complete for
  Candidate Physical Ability
  Test certification. 

 
Fire chiefs from 20 fire departments in the South Suburbs proudly showed off the CPAT center, 17555 Ashland Ave., at a July 26 open house. It is one of only three such facilities in the Midwest open to firefighter candidates. Certification is good for one year and will allow candidates to apply for positions in the Chicago metro area and fire departments nationally.
 
The CPAT testing center was launched by Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS) Division 24. The division bought the Homewood building several years ago and then constructed a massive 70,000 square foot space to store shared equipment and develop a CPAT testing site.
 
Funds for the $70,000 of CPAT specialty equipment were raised through the “Shake the Boot” fundraiser, sponsorships and golf outings, according to Kevin Welch, fire chief in Glenwood, who serves as Division 24 president. Past president is Bob Grabowski, Homewood’s fire chief.
 
Division 24 is the busiest -- by call volume -- of the 64 MABAS divisions in Illinois, Welsh said. MABAS allows the 20 fire departments in the South Suburbs to share equipment and manpower for specialty needs, including dive, hazardous materials, rescue, investigations and photography teams. Equipment for the teams is also stored at the headquarters. 
 
Their biggest endeavor has been developing the CPAT. Welsh says: “It’s going to be huge for the area.”
 
The center will bring recognition to the South Suburbs, and the work of Division 24. It shows that the local fire departments work on CPAT as a joint initiative with the International Association of Firefighters and the International Association of Fire Chiefs. 
 
It is not meant to be a moneymaker, he added. Firefighter candidates pay the $125 fee to the National Testing Network that records the scores and maintains the paperwork. 
 
The CPAT test is meant to level the playing field for candidates, Grabowski explained.  
 
“More and more departments are adopting CPAT standards. In the old days, every department had a test. This standardizes the test. If you have a (CPAT) card, you’re good to go,” he said.  The last three hires for the Homewood Fire Department had CPAT certification.

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