Raymond Runs the Nightly Watch

By Joe Flaherty

It is 9:30 p.m. on Saturday night.  The campus is illuminated by a full moon, and the faraway thumping bass of music can be heard echoing across lawns as parties get started. Tom Raymond is on the clock, checking in for his shift as a night watchman.  “The College campus is a lot different at night than what it is during the day,” Raymond said. “It changes a little.”

He radios into his supervisor from Facilities and buckles a belt jangling with over 20 keys.  Tonight Raymond is working a graveyard shift from 9:30 p.m. until 2 a.m.

Raymond climbs into the cab of the pickup truck he uses to travel around campus, checking buildings.

One common misconception about the night watchmen is that the three staff members — Raymond, Pat Bushey and Gene DeLorenzo — are an arm of Public Safety.

“A lot of people think of night watch as security, and it’s not at all — [it’s] totally separate,” Raymond said. “Public safety, as you know, deals mostly with students.

We offer assistance to them if they need us for something but we don’t tend to be Public Safety at all.”

Raymond said he sees a discouraging amount of vandalism to buildings and equipment.

“Fire extinguishers, breaking off exit signs, lights,” Raymond said, listing the results of nights of partying. “I guess a lot of it could be attributed to the fact that, for a lot of the kids, it’s their first experience with alcohol and they don’t really know how to behave when they’re drinking.”

Despite the vandalism, Raymond likes being able to interact with students.

“For the most part, the students are great, from what we see,” he said. “I love my job just because you get to see students all the time, and it’s mostly always upbeat and I really like that.”

There have been a few large-scale vandalism events during Raymond’s time at the College.

“Besides being a real safety violation, there is so much mess and expense involved with cleaning up fire extinguishers,” Raymond said. “That chemical stuff goes everywhere.  The second year that I was a night watchman, it was close to commencement, and there were 13 of them fired off in one night.  They had to call in custodial and everybody.  I don’t know what the final tab was, but that kind of thing really bugs me.”

The misconception about night watch is clear as Raymond walks around campus.

“As you walk in some place you’ll see people gasp,” Raymond said.  “But then they realize, ‘no, he’s the night watchman.’”

Sure enough, as Raymond entered social houses, people tended to walk hastily away or greet him with a nervous “hello.”  The volume of music, previously ear-splitting, was turned down, and students eyed Raymond until it became clear he was checking a sprinkler system or fire safety equipment.

During an early stop on his route, Raymond walked into the kitchen of the Kirk Alumni Center. Walking to a corner of the kitchen, he deftly pulled out a grey rectangular device from a holster on his belt and pressed it up against a scanner on the wall the size of a light switch.

“We have these stations, and at the end of the night we get a printout and it shows everywhere we went and what time we were here,” he said.  “It’s for College fire insurance so they know the buildings are being checked.”

Prevention is just as much a part of Raymond’s job as is addressing problems.

“We’ve been up here before when the dishwasher would leak,” he said. “And if you catch it rather than it leaking all night, and either shut it off or get someone in here to fix it before it starts running through the ceiling, it makes a big difference in how much damage is done.”

Down a flight of stairs, Raymond checked a fire panel with rows of glowing lights that indicated systems were normal.

“Our primary responsibilities are mechanical, checking for safety,” he said. “The fire systems, anything mechanical … we go to all kinds of mechanical rooms, making sure mechanical stuff is working correctly.”

Checking the air compression of sprinklers is another one of Raymond’s duties as a watchman. The mechanism of the system relies on a certain amount of air compression in the pipes buried within the basements of many of the buildings on campus, and Raymond has to record the pressure nightly to ensure the system is not activated by a faulty amount of pressure.

Raymond has been at the College for just over four years, and his experience with the buildings shows.  At many of the sites where Raymond checks the pressure of sprinkler systems, he knows what exact pressure to expect from each valve and gauge.

The pickup truck Raymond drives from location to location is sometimes the object of late-night pranks. According to Raymond, a few years ago, another night watchmen’s truck was taken for a joyride and found in Salisbury, Vermont after the staff member, wanting to keep the engine running in the cold, left his keys in the ignition. This was a lesson not lost on Raymond.  At one point, a large and raucous group of students walked down the hill to the modular housing as we exited the truck, and Raymond cautioned, “You better lock your door.”

Raymond’s experience also comes in handy when traversing the bowels of hundred-year-old buildings such as the Emma Willard House. The night watchman has to weave through the labyrinth of corridors in which anyone else would be hopelessly lost.

“You get used to the sounds that the buildings make, too,” Raymond said. A bang from an air vent as loud as a gunshot did not cause Raymond to even bat an eye.
Raymond often has to work around crowded parties, especially on weekends. He recounted a time when he had to muscle his way through The Mill when there must have been 400 people there by his recollection.

“You would wonder if it would stand up or not, there were so many people packed in there,” Raymond said. “Just last weekend they had a paint dance – I walked through that and came out looking like a rainbow. Luckily, it was all washable.”

Despite his years on the job, Raymond also encounters things that scare or worry him.  Walking out on the roof of McCardell Bicentennial Hall, Raymond described one of those more worrying moments. He had been checking the roof of Bicentennial Hall and had discovered that a concrete block used to weigh down an antenna had been dragged near the railing.

“I don’t know if they were thinking they were going to throw it off, but [someone] ran a cable through all of them now, so you can’t move them,” he said. “But that was spooky to see that sitting there, right over the third-floor entrance.”

The night watchmen are put through their paces on the walk route of campus.

“On the walk route there are 1,750 stairs,” he said. “I counted them all just out of curiosity one night.”

Raymond’s crossed paths with fellow night watchman Bushey on his Saturday route.

“It’s pretty boring when the students are gone,” said Raymond. “I’d much rather have the students here.”

“Free entertainment, you know,” Bushey joked. “Some people go the movies, or bowling, we just come to work. To me, the reward is when you’re cleaning up puke or fixing a window, when the students come by and say thank you.  That, to me, is rewarding.”