of Firefighter Tests
are two basic approaches to testing firefighters. The first
method is known as the work sample test and is often misnamed as a
"physical agility test." The second type of physical test uses measures
of human physical ability such as situps, push-ups, pull-ups, grip
strength, 1.5 mile run, one-mile walk, etc. to assess those abilities
related to the job. Many types of ability tests are available that
measure various known aspects of human performance. Both methods have
been successfully useful for employment selection. There are advantages
and disadvantages to both types of tests. Work samples can be
criticized because they expect job applicants to be physically capable
of performing firefighter functions prior to even a single day of
training. On the other hand, since these tests "look like the job,"
they are challenged less frequently. Tests of human ability such as
grip strength or the one mile walk are safer than work samples but
require additional research steps to link them to the job.
Using both types of tests in a validation study can offer the fire
department a great deal. If a set of work samples were developed based
on the job analysis and the physical abilities to perform those work
samples were identified, a set of ability tests could be simultaneously
developed. For example, a common firefighter work sample is to quickly
ascend and descend several flights of stairs while carrying a hose
pack. Scores on this work sample should correlate highly with a
treadmill test, the one mile walk, and the 1.5 mile run. Another common
work sample is a dummy drag. Scores on the dummy drag should correlate
highly with performance on tests such as the bench press, grip
strength, and isometric strength measurements.
Work samples and the ability tests can be validated at the same time. A
group of incumbents would take both the work sample tests and the
ability tests. Scores could be compared to determine the relationship
between the ability tests and the work sample tests.
The work sample tests could be used for selection and the ability tests
could be used in training and fitness program development. When a given
firefighter has a poor score on a bench press or grip strength test a
clear training regime can be developed. The training prescription might
include be weight training where progress is periodically assessed.
Another value to the ability test validation method involves the
treatment of injured workers. For example, it is well known that
physicians have a difficult time with the evaluation of the functional
capacity of firefighters. How much can they lift? Can they do the job?
By administering simple ability tests, the functional ability of the
firefighter can be predicted facilitating return to work or advising
against it. This is another example of how the relationship between
ability test scores and work samples can be useful since scores on safe
ability tests can be used to predict performance on less safe
firefighter work samples.
Because most females do not
at the same level as most males, almost any test of physical ability is
vulnerable to charges of sex discrimination. In order to survive such
challenges, employment types of tests require validation studies. It is
no exaggeration to state that without a validation study, no physical
ability test could survive a competent court challenge.
Judges rely primarily on three sets of standards in assessing the
validity of tests. These include the Uniform Guidelines on Employee
Selection Procedures or the professional testing standards promulgated
by the APA and SIOP. The Guidelines prohibits employers from testing
for skills that are easily trainable. Thus it is important to test for
skills and abilities that firefighter applicants must possess on the
first day on the job. If firefighters are trained on a task after, say,
six months on the job, such a task would be a poor item on which to
assess persons who are unfamiliar with firefighting in a selection
test. Any validation study must address:
- Job-Relatedness. Is
there a documented linkage between the results of the job analysis and
the content of the work sample test?
- Reliability. Will the
scores of individual test takers significantly differ should they
retake the test? Tests which show a high variation in scores with the
same individuals upon repeated administrations are unreliable and not
valid. Work samples can be highly susceptible to learning effects and
intra-trial reliability analysis can assess each element of the work
sample on this critical dimension.
- Validity. To what
extent does the test measure behaviors that have been shown to be
critical for successful job performance?
- Efficiency. Can the
test be easily administered to large numbers of job applicants few as
small a number of proctors as possible?
- Safety. Is the test
likely to injure job applicants? Are there less risky alternatives?
- Scoring. Is the test
scored unambiguously? Successful performance on a test should be
objectively measured on not on the basis of how an applicant appears
during the test.
- Simplicity. Test that
have clear and simple directions are preferred over tests with
complicated or convoluted instructions.
- Training and Techniques.
Tests which measure job behaviors that can be improved upon with
minimal training must be avoided since not all applicants will have an
equal access to such training. In addition, techniques which will be
learned during a formal training process are not suitable for
employment testing since the employer intends to conduct training for
those very skills.
can validate work sample tests or physical ability tests. For
firefighters, a content valid work sample test is the least expensive
type of test to develop. Work sample tests are also preferable since
they allow for individuals to be tested while wearing turnout gear and