The other night, while curled up in my sleeping bag on a creaky recliner up in a loft above the apparatus floor of a small firehouse on the city’s northeast side, I lulled myself to sleep ruminating on all of the strange places I’ve slept in my life as an EMS gypsy. After all, with more than 28 years experience across four states, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to sleep around, and I must say I’ve found myself on a number of occasions questioning my career choices. Actually, it speaks to the strange, compelling allure of this profession that I even continued beyond my first night on the job.
It was 1983. I was very excited. I had just gotten my EMT ticket, and this was my first night on station. I was excited even though the service I was working for was primarily a non-emergency transport service that backed up the 9-1-1 service in town. So the chance of doing anything interesting was pretty small.
The station was located in a in a private house. We had two ambulances parked out back; one for the on duty crew and one for the on call crew, which was called in any time the on-duty crew went out. The had two beds and a couch, which was where I was to sleep. After a fairly uneventful day, we hit the sack, and then it began—the (expletive deleted) scanner. Now, you need to know that we had a Plectron that would go off if we got a run, yet my partners left the scanner on all night. At one point, I turned the volume way down. Not 10 minutes later, one of them got up and turned it back up to blasting.
Today, after a couple of decades of sleeping through all kinds of radio traffic, I probably wouldn’t even hear it. But in the morning I asked them what was up with the scanner. They looked as if they didn’t understand the question. Didn’t everyone sleep with a scanner crackling next to their bed at home? Apparently, every self-respecting whacker in those parts couldn’t sleep without the dulcet tones of public safety communications lulling them to sleep. Later, I would learn to my chagrin that there are also people who can’t sleep without the television on. It wasn’t a good first night on the job.
Nevertheless, I persevered and got to sleep in lots more fun places. Here are a few of my favorites:
The old converted gas station in Lorain, Ohio, where we slept in closet-like, windowless cells with just enough space for a bunk bed. If you were in the top bunk, the heating vent was about a foot above you. I’d regularly awaken awash in a sweat bath, unable to open my stuck-shut eyes, skin itchy and scaly. Then, of course, the War of the Thermostat would begin—the thermostat being one of the most bitterly contested battlegrounds in the service.
Another lovely hostel was the converted garage in Elyria where we also had bunk beds, but these were so well constructed that any movement by either person would shake the whole structure. And there were two sets of these in a tiny cubical with only a couple of feet between them. So you can imagine the flailing of the bodies falling on each other when the tones went off. And this charming edifice was heated by those open gas wall heaters. You know, the ones that glow red and burn the crap out of you if you every happen to brush by it? One night, I awakened to all of them blazing on high, with sauna-like effects. And my partner’s reply when I asked him wtf he was thinking? “Oh, it’ll just take the chill off.” Yes, and give you a first-degree burn from across the room.
Then there’s always the “if you can’t hang meat, it ain’t cold enough” bunkroom, and/or the bunkroom with the huge fan the size of a B-17 propeller blasting your covers off, but thankfully drowning out the snoring. I also love the following:
- The murphy bed in the kitchen night watch bunk;
- The big bunk room in the haunted firehouse where you spend the night reminding yourself there are no such things as ghosts;
- The over-the-bay bunk room that feels like an earthquake every time the bay doors open or close;
- The one with the rats;
- The one with the roaches;
- The one in the student dormitory that has so much mold in the HVAC system you cough up your lungs after 10 minutes; and
- Of course, the curling up as best you can in the front seat of your rig because you don’t even have a home—even a rat-, roach- or mold-infested one.
So in this spirit, as we contemplate mangers and swaddling clothes and other nighttime paraphernalia, please write back below tell us the tale of your most exquisite nocturnal EMS abode.