Requirement of a new physical assessment has been part of a dispute between the city’s bylaws staff and management, amidst department restructuring.
Staff, especially older staff who had been in bylaws officer roles for some time, have argued the test was too difficult, forcing them to be displaced from their positions and transitioned to another city department or offered severance.
On March 5, Kamloops This Week editor Christopher Foulds, 52, reporter Jessica Wallace, 32, and Kamloops Coun. Mike O’Reilly, 37, took the new fitness assessment, which is called the Community Services Officers’ Physical Abilities Test (CSOPAT).
All three participants admitted to being out of shape amid the COVID-19 pandemic. None had trained for the test nor had taken it before.
City staff demonstrated the test elements, which include running up and down a set of stairs six times, zigzagging and jumping through 30 metres of cones and three 18-inch hurdles, pushing and pulling 50 pounds of weight via a simulator 12 times, 10 burpee-vault-situp-repeats and a 70-pound bag carry.
One must finish the timed portion of the event — right up to the bag carry — in a time of three minutes and 20 seconds (3:20) or less.
The bag carry is done after a 30-second pause following the intense timed course.
Chelsea Tekonomy, the city’s active living co-ordinator, explained that the test is designed to push people to their limit, gauging mobility, agility and speed. Staff estimated a 50/50 pass/fail rate.
City of Kamloops community services manager Tammy Blundell said positions for community services officers (formerly known as bylaws officers) have physical requirements, including running short distances, hiking up and down embankments or taking down encampments and need to be able to defend themselves, should hairy situations arise.
She said the test was instituted as the job evolved and the goal is to have “well-rounded” staff who are both mentally and physically prepared.
“That is what we’re building,” Blundell said.
O’Reilly was the first brave soul.
He is a father and among the younger faces around the city council table at Kamloops City Hall.
O’Reilly made his way through the stations. He clocked in at 4:01, failing to finish at the required 3:20 mark and conceding he would not be hired for the job as a result.
He watched as Foulds stepped over the starting line, ran up the stairs, jogged around the cones, jumped over the hurdles, pulled and pushed the required weight and came to the next station.
After pushing and pulling 50 pounds of weight 12 times, one then immediately moves onto 10 sets of burpees, vaulting and sit-ups — arguably the most challenging component.
“You’ve got no gas left,” O’Reilly said, referring to a slowing down Foulds and challenges he faced during his own test.
Though each station may have seemed simple enough during the walk-through, it was the sequencing together in a row, endurance and time factors that made the obstacle course challenging.
After completing the 70-pound bag lift and carry, Foulds was notified he was two seconds off the mark, failing only by a hair — with a time of 3:22.
The crucial two seconds came during a pause before rising from the final situp.
“Way harder than it looks,” Foulds said, bent over with his hands on his knees, lungs burning and legs wobbly.
(He would later allege the timing to be faulty, while simultaneously admitting he had a taste of metal and blood in his mouth as he continued to hack in the hours following the test.)
This reporter was last up to the line.
Off I went. The first running components felt easy enough — a 50-foot run pales in comparison to a Friday morning run in Peterson Creek with Tara Holmes — but the pushing and pulling simulator caused grief.
With wobbly arms and legs, doing burpees, hopping over a two-and-a-half-foot vault and getting up and down 10 times in a row felt challenging. (Perhaps it is about time in the pandemic to pick up barbells, rather than baking and Netflix suggestions).
Nonetheless, the coaches said my time was 3:20 on the dot, meaning I passed with nary a second to spare.
Some questions, through wheezing, for the councillor and staff: What if the former bylaws officers fail the test? What can be learned from taking the test?
Blundell (who passed the physical herself) explained 14 officers have taken part in a first attempt of the test, which occurred in December. She could not say how many had passed or failed. Of staff who failed, they have been provided the opportunity to train and retake the test again this month. If they fail again, a final chance will be offered in July.
Blundell noted that new applicants will only be given one opportunity, but former bylaws staff are given multiple opportunities to hit that 3:20 mark to help transition. The city is hoping to have its community services department operating this spring, with hiring ongoing to reach a complement of 32 officers, including full-time, part-time and on-call officers.
Of those who fail the final attempt, Blundell said discussions with human resources will occur, though it is as yet unknown what will happen to them. The city has said it will provide positions for staff who wish to stay with the city in other departments, such as parks. Blundell confirmed someone could go to another department and end up back in community services should they get in enough physical shape to pass the test and rejoin the department.
O’Reilly said the experience helped him to understand decisions made at the council table. He noted the physical test mirrored a physical test designed for corrections officers. Upon management taking that test, however, O’Reilly noted the city determined the typical 2:50 standard time should be increased slightly to 3:20. Without that bump, all three of us who participated would have failed and the test would have been significantly more difficult.
O’Reilly said the physical is intended to keep staff safe, not create RCMP-equivalent officers. He touted staff for providing ample opportunities for bylaws staff to pass the test, including time and money spent to train them.
“That gives me confidence that we’re going about it the right way,” he said.