You know how there are people whose enthusiasm for things is contagious? Alex Capece is one of those people. We Love DC’s Editor man, Tom, stumbled across Alex’s blog, Raising Ladders, a detailed account of his experience as an EMT/firefighter in the DC Fire Department. His eye for photography, paired with his knack for great storytelling makes for a compelling blog read, but also exposes a side of DC that most are unfamiliar with. We sat down at Commonwealth recently, and I grilled him all about his job, his love of DC, and his favorite places to take photographs.
Katie: What’s your favorite place in DC?
Alex: The National Portrait Gallery. The first time I went, I was lost for six hours – it was the first time I had been out on my own exploring the city.
What would you change about DC if you could? Don’t say traffic. Everyone says traffic.
Traffic. No, the humidity. There are days here where you feel like you’re stuck to the sidewalk.
So you write all about your experiences as a rookie firefighter. What do you enjoy about blogging?
When I first started Raising Ladders, I was writing it for friends and family, just so I could tell them about what I was doing. Now it’s more of a challenge to come up with interesting things. I try to write a post for every shift. I never really thought it would be so popular, now I try and think of what people would want to read. It’s like my dad says, if you do good work, someone will notice. I’m always impressed when people email me now, mostly asking about the DCFD.
As an EMT and firefighter, what is the craziest call you’ve ever been on?
In DC, it was probably my experience with the crackhead, which I wrote about on RL. (Katie: and just for you dear reader, I copy/pasted from the original post, ’cause it’s just that funny) The members of Engine 15 and a truck company were standing around the scene of a gas leak; we had just shut the supply off when our attention was drawn to the shirtless man quickly walking up to us. “You know why? You know why? Because I’m about to go smoke this rock right here.” He thrust his clenched left hand proudly in the air, pumping his fist like he had just won the lottery. “…and if I smoke too much, and I need y’all… Imm’a call you on my phone right here.” In mirror image, he reached deep into his pocket and switched his dramatic pose; now wildly brandishing a cell phone with his right arm, he stared and waited for some reaction. Indifferent to the man’s statements (and probably growing bored), one of the guys from the truck company turned to our newfound friend and extended a pudgy finger in my direction. “Well, I’ll tell you what. The man you need to talk to… is right there.” Dammit. (“Probationary Manual, Chapter Eight: Talking to Excited Crack Heads for the Laughter and Enjoyment of Older Firefighters.”) Mr. Rock Addict began sauntering over to me, when he stopped short. His eyes looked me up and down for only a second, but it was enough to make him spin in place and hightail it back the way he came. “Naw, f*** that guy. He a rookie… I ain’t talkin’ to no rookie.” Great. Even the southeast crackheads know I’m the new guy.
Conversely, what is your typical call?
Chest pain, strokes, trouble breathing. You would not believe the amount of people who call us for “trouble breathing”.
What’s the thing that nobody ever asks you about your job that you like talking about?
Nothing. When people find out what I do, they wanna know everything. It’s not common, how many DC firefighters do you know?
What are some of the codes that the fire department use to describe situations?
There are no ten codes. We just call it as it is. If there’s a fire, we’ll say there’s a fire.
If you could work in any house in the District, where would you work?
We are assigned locations, and I’d be happy to work anywhere in the city. But given a choice, I’d probably work in South East. It’s nice, you feel a bit removed by the river, and it’s interesting to the point where I could never make up the stuff that happens there.
How do you spend your days off in the city?
Reading, blogging, taking pictures in random parts of the city. Right now I like taking pictures of Adams Morgan at night, lots of motion, good lights. I’m also starting to attend more theater shows, and I’ve been taking pictures of my friend who is a local comedian. It’s a challenge for me, shooting in a small space with poor lighting.
Your pictures are great, have you taken classes?
Nope, no formal training, I’m self-taught. I’d take classes if I had the money and a reliable schedule, but my shifts rotate.
For more of Alex, and all his adventures as a DC firefighter and EMT, head over to Raising Ladders. Also, the photos you see here are just a taste of the great pictures Alex has taken on the job. See more on smugmug. A large percentage of the proceeds of photograph portions will be donated to the Burn Foundation.