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Night Watchmen Keep an Eye on Campus

By Dan McGuire
Staff Reporter

Under the influence of severe academic pressure, lack of sleep, and without their mothers to look out for them, weary MIT students could pose a hazard for themselves and others.

While the night watchmen won't make sure students have taken their contact lenses out before they fall asleep, watchmen actively do check to make sure there are no gas leaks, forgotten pots of boiling water, or other active hazards in the dormitories.

They do this, for the most part, without being noticed or thanked.

Night Watch is a part of the Department of Housing and Food Services and patrols MIT's 15 graduate and undergraduate dormitories from midnight to 8 a.m. The 17 members patrol the buildings in the evenings, looking out for intruders and checking safety equipment; back at the operations center, workers can deactivate lost MITcards and issue temporary ones and call in physical plant when emergencies arise.

"Originally I'm told there were only six watchmen, and they used to patrol down the alleyways and in the dormitories," said John E. Tocio, manager of Night Watch. "I had a ring of 62 keys now I'm down to a card and I love it," he said. The department now has a car with a cellular phone and a two-way radio allowing it to keep in contact with the patrol members.

"Our function is a lot different from that of the Campus Police," Tocio said. "We are essentially a fire patrol we do not confront urchins."

"We're the silent service," he added with a smile: "We observe and report to the proper authorities."

"The [members of the patrol] are responsible for their own dormitories," said Assistant General Manager John J. Ahern. "They're almost like a night manager if they find something wrong or out of the ordinary they call the supervisor to find out what action is necessary."

One recent night, I joined Ahern on a tour of a Night Watch route. We walked from the headquarters to Next House in time to meet patroller Cecil Eastman for his first round. The first round is typically the longest and takes from 30 to 40 minutes. "They secure the building when they first come on," Ahern said. Securing the building includes checking for open windows, insecure doors, and unattended, turned-on stoves.

We first checked the previous evening's incident log to make sure that all the issues cited by the watchman yesterday were resolved.

We then walked across to the dining hall. Eastman closed several ground floor windows after pointing out to me that the windows were just a few feet above the ground outside and easy to get in through. "We'll often discover things you won't discover," Ahern said.

We descended into Next House's basement, checking the fire extinguishers as we went along. "Sometimes the kids will fire it off," Eastman said. They also tested other safety equipment like the smoke alarms and fire hoses.

Next, we examined the laundry room, sniffing for gas leaks and checked the stove in the nearby kitchen to make sure that it is not on. "If someone asks Who's the mysterious person who shut my stew off?' it's the night watchman," Ahern said, noting that fires have started from unattended food on a stove.

In one of the basement bathrooms we came upon a slow leak which Eastman and Ahern examined but decided was not serious enough to warrant an emergency call to Physical Plant. Instead, they logged it and left it for the morning crew. After making sure that all of the exterior security lights were working, we moved on to the machine rooms to check for more leaks.

At this point I dropped out, exhausted, and Eastman began to make the rounds of the remainder of the building.

"In between rounds you generally find the watchman at the front desk but he could be handling a room lockout or any number of things," Ahern said. "They're in the dorm looking out for you."