Hal Collier’s next 5 posts will be on Graveyard Shift and how it impacts a the life of an emergency service worker: Dispatchers, Medics, and Firefighters all have to live this way. Firefighters can sleep on the job sometimes but my husband came home dog tired many times because he was up all night on fires or a multi-casualty incident (known as MCI’s in the biz…) of varying types. On another note: I never could split my sleep the way Hal describes. After work, I fell into bed and slept (mostly) 6-7 hours. I also never could have a beer at 7 am. But everyone has their method of coping with the conflicting body rhythms of a graveyard shift. Some don’t cope as well as others. At Petaluma PD one night, a new dispatcher–a cocky young man–insisted to his partners that he never slept on the job. That was until a co-worker tied his shoelaces together one night. The co-worker arranged to have one of the officers flip on his siren and open his mic at the same time. Well, that young dispatcher learned to be cautious of his boasting in the future.
By Hal Collier
I have been writing my Ramblings for over three years and get a lot of comments. Some encourage me to keep writing, some suggest that I’m verbose (wordy). Some suggest that I take up knitting. Some claim that they never committed anything that might be misconduct and they always were professional. Of course memories fade, I will always be 160 lbs.
I leave everyone’s memory of their career to themselves. Me, I did some things for entertainment that the department might not like. I didn’t commit any crimes but I played practical jokes that today would be considered a hostile work environment. I also accepted a free cup of coffee or a bag of sunflower seeds. I ate at restaurants that gave cops half price meals, all against Department rules. I did wear my seatbelt and stopped at stop signs. I was laughed at for stopping at the stop sign at the police academy.
Working AM watch was living like an owl. You work all night then sleep during the day. At night, you go hunting for prey then return to your nest. As I’ve mentioned numerous times, I worked a lot of Morning Watch as AM watch was called. Of my thirty-five years on the LAPD I worked Morning Watch nineteen years. In the beginning, it was the department’s idea. Later, it was mine. I fell in love a second time!
I graduated from the Police Academy on a beautiful Friday. Saturday night I was working Hollywood Morning Watch. Morning Watch started at 11:30 P.M. on the day before you were scheduled to work. It was confusing at first but I figured it out. But try explaining to a non-police person. If you’re working on Monday the 2nd, you go to work at 11:30 PM on the 1st. You are invited to a party on the 9th. Don’t take the 9th as your day off, you have to take the 10th. Got it? Some never figured it out.
My first day, I figured I needed to take a nap before work. Last thing a probationer needs to do is fall asleep during his first day on the job. I hope four hours will get me through the night. Ok, I’m more excited than a five-year-old on Christmas Eve and I’m going to take a nap. OK, I’m a rookie at sleeping in the daytime. I lie down and toss and turn for three hours. It’s no use-I’m wide awake. I yawn on my way to work that night.
I found out that a Saturday night in Hollywood is not dull or slow at all. We race from call to call, stop a kid from committing suicide. At 4 AM I’m sitting in the Copper Skillet eating breakfast. I drive home as the sun is rising and people are going to church. I get home and take off my uniform. I didn’t get a locker until I had been in Hollywood for over a month.
I’d spent an hour telling Terri, my wife, about every minute of my first night, including the pancakes I had for breakfast. Then, I went to bed and spent a good four hours sleeping. I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep. Later in the evening I got another two hours of sleep, and went to work. This sleeping in the daytime might take some practice.
Two days later, I get a few days off. Yea, that’s right a Wednesday, Thursday. You didn’t think a rookie was going to get a weekend off, did you? So after work, you are tired but it’s your day off and you don’t want to sleep it away. You try to stay awake but by 6 PM you’re asleep on the couch. After seven hours of sound sleep, you now wake up well rested. The only problem is it’s 3 AM.
I needed a new method. After all those years, my system was take a four hour nap before work after a day off. I sleep four hours after work with a day off ahead. This worked for me and after a while I had no problem sleeping during the day.
Of course no system is perfect. During the first year of my probation, Terri was working and I had the house to myself, except for my dog and the telephone. The dog barked at the door to door salesmen, as well as the mailman.
“I was sleeping, I have to work tonight.”
Non-police friends soon become non-friends. They just don’t understand and who wants to go out on the town on Wednesday night? Cops are accused of only hanging out with other cops and that’s part of the reason.
Another time I was exhausted and was in a deep sleep. The phone kept ringing so I got up and answered it. “Hello this is the LA Times and I’m offering you a 1 year subscription for half price.” I lost my usual congenial personality. I told him where he could put his rag newspaper and if he wanted help, I’m off Thursday.
Another time I was sound asleep and I hear my 2 year-old-son running down the hallway toward our bedroom. I hear Terri yelling, “Bob, don’t wake up your father.” Bob runs faster than Terri and threw a metal Tonka Dump Truck, onto the bed. It hit an area 8 inches below my navel. See if you can get back to sleep after a shot to your ????.
Next I’ll talk about court, days off, and split shifts of sleep. Hal