The first probation test.

"Rookie! It's tiiiime!"

Punctuated by the sound of the door being kicked open, Sarge strode out of the officer's quarters with a grin on his face and a taunting inflection in his voice. He was covering for my usual officer that day, and what a special day it was: time for my first ("sixth-month") probation test with the Battalion Chief.

I had been studying all morning, reviewing and memorizing the questions I had researched for the past month. There's a little over seventy of them, and—despite advice to the contrary—I couldn't help but pore over the answers again and again, as if desperately trying to catch some token of knowledge I missed in the first thousand times I read them. I climbed into the wagon, forcing myself to stare out the window instead of at the papers piled on the seat beside me. I mean, what's the point? If you don't have it by now, you don't have it at all.

The office of the Chief for the First Battalion is located on the upper level of Engine 12. As we pulled around the back, the other guy on the engine tried to calm my nerves: "Damn, it kinda looks like a prison. And the warden is waiting for you upstairs!"

Thanks, good pep talk.

He laughed. I didn't. With its drab concrete walls and tightly-barred windows, he wasn't far off.

Image ©
I had difficulty hearing anything but actor Bob Gunton's voice in my head as I slowly climbed the fluorescent-lit stairway.


"Put your trust in the Lord… 

your ass belongs to me. 

Welcome to Shawshank."

Fortunately, I was granted my freedom a few hours later (we were still in service the whole time, so I had to run a handful of medical calls in the middle of it. Eventually the nervousness gave way to mental exhaustion right before the test was over). It wasn't nearly as bad as I was making it out to be, but again: all this stuff is new to me, and I'm just trying hard not to %@*$ anything up too badly. It's a little nerve-wracking to sit one-on-one with a Battalion Chief, but thankfully he was very fair, as well as open to discussion if I didn't understand something fully. 

Well, the first one's over. Unfortunately, there really isn't any rest for the weary; now it's back to the books for the seventh-month questions!


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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."
September 2009
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