I arrived at the warehouse and quickly snagged one of the "good" pack test vests, after weighing it and discarding one of the lead weights (I'll carry the required 45 pounds, but not 49). One of the fire engine crew, lurking around, saw me and said, "You're taking the pack test? You must be a tough gal!"
Let me back up a little. In case you aren't familiar, in order to fight fire every year, you have to pass a physical fitness test. Back in the day, we stepped up and down on a box (kind of like step aerobics) while someone held a watch. After several minutes, your pulse was taken. If it fell into an acceptable range, you got your "red card". Because this wasn't an accurate way of measuring fitness, this test was later discarded, but for awhile we ran instead. You had to finish one and a half miles in 11:45, which is pretty easy, and we all would cruise to the finish feeling good about ourselves.
Sometime in the nineties, the work capacity test, or pack test, arrived. You had to lug a backpack weighing 45 pounds, or a truly horrifying bladder bag (rubber bag full of water, all the weight on your shoulders) three miles in 45 minutes. Which sounds easy until you try it. For vertically challenged people, this is not easy, but it is possible for people in decent shape. Now there are weighted vests which make it even easier (but not easy).
I looked around the room to spy--men. A sea of men. I was the only woman taking the pack test, and most of the others were young enough that I could be their mom, a truly awful feeling. It wasn't as bad as someone marveling that a girl could do it though. I thought, where are all the women? When I started fighting fire in 1986, there were only a handful of us. Sometimes it was good, sometimes not so good. I can't say I was totally responsible for paving the way for women to be accepted on the fireline--a few had been there already, and others went on to smokejump. But I had hoped by now that a woman doing a pack test would not be a big deal.
We pounded the pavement, and it was fine. I ended up with two blisters and my running shoes are showing the same kind of wear as my old ones, a blow-out on the left outer side. Why is this happening? Are my feet getting wider? Runners, please advise!
The pack test is not a race, but the young guys try to make it one. Out of thirteen I finished third. I guess "gals" can do it after all.