The Gauntlet.

"You should stop…"

I froze in place, realizing for the first time how sweaty I had grown in only a few minutes in gear.

"…drop…"

I crumpled to the ground, covering my face and bashing my knuckles in the process. Come on… stage training be damned—why commit to a fall when they probably don't care how it looks anyways?

"…and roll!"

I could barely contain my laughter as my world went alternately bright and then dark, bright and then dark. The ecstatic squeals and shouts of first-graders were all around me as I flopped around, probably looking for all the world like a big tan fish rimmed in Scotch-Brite.

Yes, it was time for the elementary school kids to meet their Friendly Neighborhood Fireman!

Gijoe Don't play with matches, don't use the stove, ask your parents if you have a smoke detector… 

I had to seriously stop myself from quoting a childhood hero: "Now you know. And knowing is half the battle!"

Demonstrations for elementary schools seem to be pretty common in the Department; the only unfortunate part is that it usually falls to the rookie to demonstrate the finer points of, well, everything.

"How quickly can you get dressed?" Uh, let me go get my gear, and I'll show you!

"What's the stuff on top of the fire truck?" Give me a second to climb up there, and I'll show you!

"How do I call 9-1-1?" Well…

The kids really seem to enjoy having us come by their school; it's really not all that bad unless the children turn violent. And I don't mean playful-violent. I mean full-on, someone-call-a-priest, Children-of-the-Corn violent.

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The Gauntlet.

We try to teach children not to be afraid of us in gear. Admittedly, with our helmets, masks, gloves, air cylinder, and Darth Vader voice, we do tend to frighten the little ones (we always get a few at every school who hide behind the teacher). However, when the children are encouraged to approach and see us up close, one of them always gets a little adventurous. This "fun" spreads like wildfire, and before I know it, I feel like Mickey Mouse on a bad day at Disney World.

Once, I had a child raise his hand not three feet in front of me. In his calmest voice, he asked his teacher: "Can we slap the fireman?"

That was not a good day.

Nevertheless, it's a pretty rewarding experience. From showing them the inside of the engine, to making sure to give the siren a little extra juice when we (inevitably) have to go on a run, they love every second of our show-and-tell.

I may have felt like an idiot while I crawled around on a sidewalk, or been embarrassed by getting bowled over by a bunch of sugared-up six-year-olds…

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…but it's totally worth it.

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Alex Capece

Washington, D.C. Firefighter and Paramedic

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