Administration and Leadership, Columns

Territorial Imperative

Shift change after another crappy night. Sitting on the funky couch in the day room, trying to get enough caffeine on board to regain a minimal level of consciousness for the drive home. Another night in the funky Petri dish we called a crew quarters, at the back of the garage we called a station, was always a pleasure. But nights like this were a particular joy, with calls spaced sadistically by the Gods of the Street to allow just enough time to doze off to the land of REM, only to be jerked back into semi consciousness by the tones and dumped into the night for another band-aid or bonehead run.

There’s nothing like waking up to find yourself behind the wheel of a rig barreling down the road with lights flashing and sirens wailing and no idea where you’re going or why. Or, worse yet, finally waking up in the report room and trying to remember the details of the bad dream you just had that your partner informs you it was actually an EMS call.

This was my first day back on the job after a vacation. As always, I looked forward to coming back to work, enjoyed my shift until bedtime, but hated the night calls. At night, crappy calls were all the more crappy, and I could never really wake up enough to enjoy the good calls. If we were up all night, that was OK. But I didn’t do well with yo-yoing up and down out of the bunk pretty much felt funky all the next day.

So anyway, there I was drinking coffee on the couch, watching the comings and goings of shift change, when I noticed an unusual amount of activity around the dispatch area. Who was that guy, anyway? He was big, close-cropped, starched and ironed. And he was moving around like he owned the place writing, cleaning, arranging, bed-making, log-entering, and who knows what else. I sat back and watched the show, which looked like a bear marking his territory. I was about to leave but decided to stick around a little while longer to try to figure out who this new guy was. It was exhausting watching him run around, and after about 10 minutes I had had enough and went home to recover.

Well, to make a long story short, we ended up working together quite a bit over the next few months and became best friends a friendship that continues to this day, 22 years later. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t long before management decided to separate us and prohibited us from working the same shift. I have no idea why other than the trail of broken policies and procedures, reprimands, and customer complaints we left in our wake.

Years later I told him this story, of watching him mark his territory at the station. He laughed. He told me he started work when I was away and was sick and tired of hearing about this God’s Gift to Paramedicine who was on vacation (me) from the Chief, and how awesome (or egotistical) and intimidating (or obnoxious) I was, so he was going to waste no time in letting me know there was a new sheriff in town.

And that’s exactly what he did. On that first day, his bluster and frenetic energy was so intense it didn’t leave any room for anybody to squeeze in, even if I had had the energy or desire to assert myself. As it was, the knuckleheads we had responded to all night had taken any fight I had left out of me, and all I could do was sit there and watch the show, bemused.

We’ve bumped our massive egos on more than one occasion over the years, and there are a few bruises. But mutual affection and respect has been strong enough to overcome the rough spots. And remembering the alpha male marking his territory on that first day long ago always gives me a chuckle.