To follow in her father's footsteps, Felecia Arthur must match the heavy tracks of a firefighter's boots.
Last month she graduated from the fire training academy and received her diploma from her father, Shelton Arthur, becoming the first daughter of a D.C. firefighter to join the city's Fire Department. Father and daughter saluted each other, smiled and embraced.
She has begun the standard one-year probation, in station No. 12, at 1626 North Capitol St., the firehouse where her father started in 1963 -- the year that she was born.
Her father, 44, now a lieutenant, commands Rescue Squad 4 at 4636 Connecticut Ave. NW.
They seldom see each other during working hours. Until recently the young fire officer lived with her family at their home in upper Northwest, but they seldom talk shop.
She joined the department, not to follow her father, but because she was a high school graduate looking for a rewarding career, she explained. After finishing at Regina High School in Hyattsville in 1980, she worked as a cashier at a parking lot in the District and was bored.
"I found out through my father that the exam was coming up," she recalled, seated across from him in the den. "But I took it because I thought it would be a good career move for me, not because it was my father's profession."
She is the 17th woman to join Washington's 1,374 uniformed firefighters and was the only woman in her graduating class of 20.
She knew the career would be an interesting one, but she realized that she had never heard her father talk much about his day-to-day experiences, or of the emotional highs and lows of such a critical job.
"Usually, when I leave work, I leave it there," said Shelton Arthur. "But she has seen me come home awfully dirty a few times."
Now Felecia Arthur, like her father, knows the seizing sensation that comes when the fire bell rings in the station. That sound, she said, causes a powerful pounding of her heart. "I think that's human. You know what you have to do, and you're going to do it. But there is that feeling . . . . And if you deny it, I think you're lying," she said.
Her father, after years of hearing the sound and knowing the feeling, said, "It still hits. It gives you the rush of adrenaline that you need."
His colleagues have asked, "Why did you let your daughter do that? Didn't you warn her?" He has answered that he has "faith in her mental and physical strength. The only missing element is experience. As she gets that, she will be an excellent firefighter."
Her 10 weeks of training included a panic drill, which simulates the horror of a real fire.
"It's a dark room, with black smoke blowing all around so you can hardly see, and people yelling and screaming and climbing all over each other," she recalled.
The intense mayhem teaches "you to keep calm through a search-and-rescue operation," she explained, and though it is only practice, trainees can easily get lost in the blinding smoke and agonizing screams.
She also remembered her classmates. At first she felt awkward with an otherwise all-male class. "I had to get used to them, and they had to get used to me," she said, but soon, "They were really supportive."
She has found that the sight of a female firefighter still surprises some people, she said. "People look really closely, then say, 'That's a girl!' "
Her father, a Cardozo High School graduate, went to the Fire Department after a tour in the Navy. He sailed on the aircraft carrier Shangri-La and became friends with John McCall, who had been a volunteer firefighter before enlisting in the Navy.
McCall "talked all the time" about his firefighting experiences but failed to impress Shelton Arthur. "I'd tell him, 'You're running into the house while people are running out,' " Arthur recalled with a laugh. "That doesn't make much sense."
After leaving the Navy, Arthur returned to Washington with a "desire to help another human being." He joined the Fire Department, as did McCall.
Christine Arthur, with a husband and a daughter on the force, has a double dose of the concern she has faced most of her adult life. "He'd be out at sea for months at a time," she said with a soft laugh. "So I was experienced at worrying before he joined the Fire Department."
She said with a smile that the fourth member of the family faces danger too, and she pointed to the rugged dirt bicycle of her 14-year-old son, Michael.
Shelton Arthur's 22 years have been relatively safe ones -- he has been burned once on his face. But he has suffered in other ways and has warned his daughter of the kind of pain she may experience. After only a few months on the job, he tried to enter the roof of a burning building and found the body of a child who had been burned to death.
"I can still see it," he said slowly. "You just never get used to seeing burned kids."
Working for the rescue squad, he has arrived at scenes "with people full of PCP, and you're just trying to help, while others are spitting and cursing at you. You do the best you can," he said.
His daughter nodded knowingly.