Day 8: Assessment and Aperture

I counted off
the final push-up, and collapsed to the floor shortly thereafter (narrowly
missing a very important Styrofoam cup).

It was PT
assessment day today, and we began counting reps and shouting encouragement
before the sun even peeked over the horizon at us. Everyone in the class was
paired up, and the goal was to perform as many push-ups and sit-ups within a
one minute time frame each. Rich and I looked around nervously, wondering if
we’d be shamed horribly. One small Styrofoam cup was placed on the floor
between us two guys (no, this isn’t the Academy’s version of internet meme
hazing), and it was used to count “proper” repetitions of push-ups. If your
chest didn’t hit the cup, that rep didn’t count. I managed to crank out 37
push-ups and 40 sit-ups; not a bad showing, considering the numbers of the rest
of the class (and they’ve been training for fourteen weeks!)

After those
two, we went into the gym and did pull-ups. I gave up eight before I just
couldn’t clear the bar anymore and had to drop off. Several of the recruits
seem almost superhuman when it comes to bodyweight exercises; one rattled off
43 pull-ups and barely broke a sweat!

The final event
for today was the grip strength test; I’m not sure upon what scale it’s
measured, but I registered a “52” for my left hand and a “55” for my right
(these numbers, while meaningless to everyone else, are recorded here only for
recordkeeping purposes). The ultimate goal is to come back after a few months
and see if you’ve markedly improved—tomorrow we’ll probably do the 1.5 mile run,
so we’ll see how that goes.

We did more Box
Alarm drills today, as well. There’s nothing quite like being the person
closest to the only door in the classroom when the Sergeant screams “
BOX!” I just reacted and bolted out the
door, which I suppose is what they’re trying to ingrain in us; I didn’t bother
to look back (although I’m sure it would have made an excellent photograph)
because I had a mental image of a mob of clamoring recruits mowing me over on
the way to their lockers. Remember that unfortunate Wal-Mart employee on Black
Friday? Yeah, it looks and sounds kind of like that.

After the final
drill, we ran the Tower in full bunker gear. If you thought the narrow
stairwell was tight to begin with, try doing it with a big, padded marshmallow
suit on. I’ll try to provide a picture sometime for an idea.

Speaking of
pictures, I double-checked: cameras are allowed at the Academy, and they’re
even encouraged for recruit classes. At the end of the year, a class is
supposed to put together a video/slideshow presentation. Because of this, one
person is designated each day to be the class photographer—should something
interesting arise, grab the digital camera and go! One of the other recruits
brings his every day, and it’s become the de facto “class camera” that we use.

Before I knew
about all that, I did let it slip that I was into photography as a hobby; I think now, 994 is going to make me take pictures of a lot of stuff. It might be a pain in the
ass at certain points, but I think overall it will be very fun. I mean, how
often does the opportunity arise to photograph all the crazy stuff we get to do
at the DCFD Training Academy? Buildings on fire within spitting distance, and
three blurred figures smashing in a door. Dirty, blackened recruits with little
but their bright white eyes shining from a soot-covered face. The tense body
language of four men trying desperately to hang on to a hose that threatens to
toss them all in the air. The look of relief when one rips off a melted face
mask and experiences the privilege of breathing fresh air again. These are the moments
you want when you’re out shooting: they’re full of human emotion, they’re screaming
with bright color, and they’re framed with some of the most intriguing
composition you’ll ever find.

I think there’s
going to be more than a few “keeper” shots that come out of the next several
months.

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Alex Capece

Washington, D.C. Firefighter and Paramedic

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