Fire station number one the Big House; was right in the downtown of my community. It seems whenever I have traveled and visited other fire departments, station number one is almost always an iconic symbol of that department.
Fire stations are numbered for a very important reason. It is because, drum roll… we add them one at a time. Over a hundred years ago my department had just one station, when we added a second station it became Twos. See how that works.
Because Ones was the first house the fire chief was there and administrative functions sprung up around that location. As a department grew and added more companies management became more complex.
With my department an administrative building was added to Ones. Good news, “The” chief was no longer sitting at the breakfast table every morning, bad news he was still right next door. Chiefs, like any boss can be cool and fun to be around, or they can go to the other extreme and be tyrants, I have worked for both.
So a little separation is welcome. Because we live and work in a communal environment exposure to our leadership can be a chronic condition. It isn’t like normal jobs where the boss is down the hall all day in his office and if there is no direct reason to interact with them you can avoid them all day or for weeks.
No, our bosses are right there eating with us, sleeping with us (that phrase has taken on a double meaning today) watching TV, playing cards and observing, always observing. That can lead to confusion on the part of the administrator and the employee.
We become very intimate (that phrase has also taken on new meaning today) as co-workers. When you spend 24 hours a day together you learn a lot about your brother and sister firefighters. It truly is an odd work place in that sense, you learn, in some cases way more than you want to about your fellows.
At your place of work for instance you probably have no clue as to the sleeping habits of the janitorial staff. We do because we are the janitors, and the cooks and the mechanics, and every now and then we are firefighters.
Imagining the sleeping habits of another employee has probably never crossed your mind and if it has seek help. We don’t have to imagine it, we live it.
At Ones and most other fire houses the bedroom was dormitory style. A gigantic open room with a couple dozen single beds lining the walls. As in all things firefighting bedding assignments are dispensed on a seniority based system. The old dogs had their spots and that never ever changed.
The only way it changed was by retirement or reassignment, otherwise it was a static environment. A bed is a bed right? Wrong. There were better beds and there were better locations for those beds.
A senior member generally had both. Defining a good bed was simple, it was the newest bed, the most comfortable, or perhaps the only bed with a mattress designed for an actual adult male and not a child.
As in business the notion of location could be more important than function. You might accept a worse bed for a better spot in the room. So what constituted a better position? For some it was proximity to a window, other older members it might be the closest to the bathroom, a corner, under the heat or air conditioner.
Me I just wanted a bed; I was never plagued as some were with difficulty sleeping at work. The biggest complaint in every station I worked in was temperature management. See here is where some of that special knowledge about the sleeping habits of co-workers comes in to play.
I’ve always been a cold sleeper, I need blankets even in warm weather, which I never knew until I became a firefighter was not the norm. I don’t know if it’s a function of testosterone, body hair, diet, culture, health, or metabolism that causes the disparity in taste for environmental temperature, but there is a disparity sometimes a very profound disparity.
One Marlboro Man I worked with was absolutely my polar opposite in temperature needs. He was one of the old dogs, a bull rider, hairy and not shy. Joe was most able to sleep when the bedroom resembled a meat storage locker. His bed placement was far more important to him than comfort.
So Joe slept right next to an always open window, always open, year round. Joe only began wearing a shirt to bed when forced to by the assignment of a female to the Big House, prior to her arrival he was bare chested. I’m sure it was more to prevent her from attacking this alpha male in the middle of the night than for her modesty.
One winter morning we got tapped out before the 7:00 am bell. When the lights came on I sat up, the first thing I noticed was I could see my breath. Then I looked around the bedroom. Dammedist thing I ever saw. It looked like Ice Station Zero in there. A storm had rolled in during the night and Joe’s open window had allowed a snow drift to form inside.
The snow began at the window, poured out over his bed and on to the floor and there was Joe sleeping under a blanket of white. He sat up, flipped off his sheet and headed for the truck. As I crawled out from under my electric blanket the cold hit me and it took me a few minutes to warm up after that.
More tales from the bedroom tomorrow.