A Perspective: “Old School” Blends with “New School”

A friend and colleague of mine, Rick Costley, posted the following

on Facebook the other day as a comment to a discussion amongst current and former members of the Chesterfield Fire and EMS Department (Previously the Chesterfield Fire Department).

www.nydailynews.comI read a lot of posts, and have made my share of them as well, about joking with my “old buds” about being “old”—feeding the horses at the station, what did I use for breathing apparatus because I never had a beard, you know what I’m talking about—and some of the younger guys nowadays make some of the same jokes, but maybe not in the same light as the older guys.

Maybe it’s because I am older, and hopefully wiser, that I am writing this.  Before my time, during our time, and even now, when you hear one of the old timers telling war stories or saying “that’s not how we used to do it”, the younger ones should not write it off as, “that was then and not now.”   But did you ever think of how an old firefighter got to be old in the first place?

Earlier in our career we didn’t have jump seats, TICs [Thermal Imaging Cameras], GPS [Global Positioning Systems], computerized [fire] preplans, automatic outriggers, Nomex® gear, Nomex® hoods, “firefighting ensembles”, automatic nozzles, and numerous other things that todays generation is growing up with.  Some of these advances were much needed and provide greater safety than ever before, but let’s not forget our basics.

  • Learning how to us a thermal imager is great, but never forget that the wall will never have a battery to die on you, and if you stay in touch with it you can get yourself out of trouble.
  • Depend on all the [protective] ensembles you want to, but if you do not wear it properly, then you are setting yourself up for trouble.
  • Never forget your buddy system,
  • Don’t count on that computerized pump panel and know your friction loss formulas
  • Learn your district and not just how to program a GPS; and remember to stay low and in touch with your buddy.


I could keep going on and on about the things that may sound simple and mundane, but in the long run don’t think that all the new training methods and all the new safety equipment is going to bring you back home tomorrow when you get off shift.  No matter how old fashioned or obsolete some of the old basics may sound, they have saved a lot of the “old firefighters” lives many times over.

So the next time you get the chance to “talk shop” with an old firefighter, just remember that what you hear may help you to get “old” one day. I’m not trying to preach, just offering what I think is some good advice.  Be safe out there guys [and gals]!

Not much I can add to that, is there?  But you know I’m going to anyway, right?  The communication of oral history is an important element of any culture and the Fire and EMS culture is no different.  Where I think we “old” firefighters—like Rick and myself—have an obligation is to keep our story telling in context.  Rick’s comments impressed me—so much so that I asked him if I could share them in this forum—because he didn’t “trash” our new technology, tools, and techniques.  Instead, he put them in the context of “always have a Plan B.”  And that’s a concept that never “goes out of style.”

What do you think?

About Rick Costley

Rick Costley joined the Chesterfield Fire Department in 1965 as a volunteer firefighter and later became a career member of the department in 1970 as a dispatcher in Fire Alarm Headquarters (CFD had hired its first career firefighters in 1969). From that early start, he quickly moved from dispatcher to firefighter to company officer before leaving the department as a lieutenant in 1986 to pursue a career in private sector fire protection. Costley began his 2nd fire service career with Dominon Virgina Power as an instructor for the Safety and Emergency Response Training Facility. He is currently the supervisor of Safety and Emergency Response Training for Dominion. He and his family make their home in Matoaca, Virginia.