By Michael Morse
In the later stages of my firefighting career, I would go to work hoping for a quiet night. It wasnâ€™t always that way. The first few years, I wanted nothing more than nights full of fires, rescues, and mayhem. Youth will do that to a person: Thinking we will rest tomorrow and live today is a philosophy suited for the young. As time marches on, we need all the rest we can get, it seems. Still, I kind of like staying up all night.
When we were kids, seeing if we could make it to sunrise was a challenge, one that we seldom achieved. We would pitch a tent in the backyard (â€œFort Apacheâ€ we called it, had a flagpole and everything) and goof around with some flashlights, take daring walks through suburbia after midnight, tell ghost stories, and eat candy till we puked. Victory was ours when the sun crested the horizon, and we would collapse into our sleeping bags and sleep until noon in the humid canvas enclosure. When we stole a milk box from a neighborâ€™s front steps, buried it, and turned it into an indoor bathroom, Fort Apache was overrun by the enemy and flattened. My dad had his limits, I guess.
When I was a teenager, staying up until sunrise was usually done with some chemical enhancement (hey, cut it out, it was the â€™70s!). Friendships formed in the teen years were more solid, and more important than any other time in my life. I didnâ€™t know it then, but those guys were the best friends I ever had or ever would have. I see some of the old gang now and then, and we have a laugh and tell a story or two and then get back to the lives we forged. I doubt if any of those lives even closely resemble what we thought they would be. That is not necessarily a bad thing. I never dreamed I would be a firefighter in a big city and stay up all night for a living.
In my 20s, I stayed up all night with ease and had some great company during my all-nighters. I wish I had half the energy now that I did then. Everything was more intense, if I remember correctly, the conversations more alive, learning about each other the only thing that mattered. Staying in a long-term relationship has its bonuses. Remembering how it was during those all-night sessions, moonlight illuminating our space, the birds starting their song an hour before sunrise, just me and her and nothing else is how I spend a lot of my daydreaming time when the nights away from home seem to drag on forever.
For the past 20 years, my all-night episodes have been work-related. I stay up all night all the time now. Itâ€™s actually nice to see the world at all hours. Not everybody gets the opportunity to see the city at four in the morning, when the streets are quiet, the houses dark, the noise gone, and most of the people gone with it. Itâ€™s just us and the people who depend on us to keep them safe. I can imagine the place as it was 20, 30, even 100 years ago. The landscape stays pretty much the same; the people are what is different.
Iâ€™m different, that much is certain, but I still like to stay up all night. Fort Apache may be gone, but the kid who camped there is not. Being awake when everybody else is sound asleep brings me that little edge of excitement that makes life worth living, makes me feel alive.
Michael Morse is a former captain with the Providence (RI) Fire Department, author, and popular columnist. His books, Rescuing Providence and Responding, are considered must-reads for people interested in EMS and the fire service. His latest book, Mr. Wilson Makes it Home, was published in February 2015.