Day 18: A flash in the pan

“The names I
just read off were the only ones who passed the protocol test. Now, to anyone
who failed it: you have one more shot, or you’re going to be dismissed. Not
recycled to the next recruit class, not put on hold… dismissed.”

A collective
shudder went through the approximately half of 994 who had not passed the
protocol test we took not an hour before. It had been a good day, filled with
lots of cooking and joking around. Now, a large group of recruits could feel
their weekends slipping away as they imagined cramming endless medical
algorithms and protocols into their brains instead of relaxing and partying.

We had done a
breakfast for the entire class and all the instructors, and the smoke-filled
kitchen was rivaled only by the smoke-filled train car that Fairfax County was
using outside. They had shown up as part of a morning training exercise
utilizing the “flashover box,” a big metal crate that you can heat up until
everything in the room suddenly combusts in an instant. Anything that can burn,
will burn—and the purpose of putting
firefighters into it is to teach them the signs of when a room is about to go
off (you’ll have about two steps to dive out a window before you’re toast). The smell of a house fire hung heavily in the apparatus bay and the drill yard for the entire day. For some, it was a familiar smell; for others, it simply offered a strange olfactory foreshadowing of the academy. 

The four
paramedics were told that anywhere from five to eight new medic recruits would
be showing up Monday; as far as we could tell, that’s the start of Recruit
Class 995.

members of 994 speculated that this would be the week we’d meet Sgt. Alvarez,
who was explained to as a former-drill-sergeant-turned-firefighter who showed
up in Week 1 to scare the shit out of new recruits. My three comrades and I already have
uniforms and knowledge of marching, so we’ll be light-years ahead of the “new”
new guys—but nevertheless, my boots are polished extra-shiny and my shirt is
pressed sharply. No sense in having him call me “lower than whale shit” any
more than he has to. 

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Alex Capece

Washington, D.C. Firefighter and Paramedic

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"For anyone who ever wanted to grow up and become a firefighter... from someone who did just that."
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