Excerpts from the ChicagoTribune.com:

A consortium of south suburban fire departments on Wednesday opened the region’s first firefighter candidate testing center, a major step toward aligning local hiring practices with national standards.

MABAS 24, which consists of 20 departments in southern Cook County, partnered with the National Testing Network, a pre-employment testing service, to launch the testing facility at Division 24 headquarters in Homewood.

Aspiring firefighters, who had previously traveled long distances, including across state lines, to take the nationally recognized Candidate Physical Ability Test required by many departments, can now do so in their own backyard.

In addition to adding convenience, MABAS officials said they hope the testing center will help standardize the firefighter hiring process in the region.

Because there is no recognized regional or statewide physical ability test that firefighters must pass before being hired, individual departments and fire protection districts have historically created their own tests or contracted with outside companies to administer tests. As a result, physical ability tests have varied widely by department, and some, including the city of Chicago’s, invited costly litigation from applicants who asserted the tests were discriminatory.

The Candidate Physical Ability Test, or CPAT, which will be administered at the new testing center, is considered legally defensible and non-discriminatory. Both the International Association of Fire Fighters and the International Association of Fire Chiefs endorse the test.

The CPAT is an eight-event course of job-specific actions, such as a hose drag, ladder raise and search and rescue that candidates must complete in less than 10 minutes and 20 seconds.

Those interested in a career as a firefighter can register online to take a CPAT test at the Homewood facility for $125. The registration fee includes a packet with exercises to help candidates train for the course and the opportunity to attend orientation sessions where candidates can familiarize themselves with the eight stations in person. Candidates also can attempt up to two timed practice runs for $39 each.

The CPAT test, which upon passage is good for one year, is intended for entry-level firefighters hoping to break into the profession.

Because the test is standardized and nationally recognized, it is transferable to any department across the country that requires it, meaning that a certified firefighter candidate can apply to multiple departments, including those out-of-state, without having to travel or take multiple tests.

The Homewood facility will offer two testing sessions per month to start, but could expand to as many as three times a week within a year, depending on demand. The testing location also will provide computer-based testing for entry-level firefighters, law enforcement officers, corrections officers, and emergency communications applicants.

The money MABAS 24 earns from operating the testing facility will go toward paying off the $70,000 outlay the division made to purchase the center’s specialized training equipment.