Nelson County, Virginia
Story By Olivia Carter
For nearly three decades Wintergreen Fire & Rescue Medic Ralph Bickley made the hour and 15 minute commute from Louisa to the station.
Curtis Sheets, Chief of Wintergreen Fire & Rescue, said Bickley has answered at the very least 5,000 calls in Nelson County, but that number could very well be much higher.
“He was with us about 28 years, which, I believe to be probably the longest that any of the public safety folks at Wintergreen have put in,” he said. “Certainly the longest that I can recall.”
At the end of the month, when Bickley retires, Sheets said there will be a definite loss for the station.
“He worked a daylight only shift and became a daily fixture,” he said. “When he’s not there, you’re gonna notice that.”
Apart from his duties, Sheets said he will miss Bickley’s sarcastic sense of humor and steady hand.
“He only knows one speed. Ralph is incredibly consistent,” Sheets said. “He’s never gonna get excited. If he does get mad, you won’t know it. And he’s just a real steady hand.”
Bickley is a Vietnam Air Force veteran and started off as a volunteer EMT in 1984. For a brief period, he worked for the Richmond Ambulance Authority, which has a high call volume, Sheets said.
“He has just a ton of experience and he is storyteller. He likes to tell war stories. And he stays pretty current on everything,” Sheets said. “So he pays quite a bit of attention to local news and national news and he’ll chat it up around the station and everybody just really likes working with Ralph.”
Sheets said he used to jokingly refer to Bickley as “Rapid Ralph.” Not because of his personality but whenever the station got a call for a patient with a rapid pulse rate, usually Bickley was working that day.
“He was just steady. You can always count on him to come through,” Sheets said.
When Sheets was hired in 1999, Bickley was acting as interim chief. Sheets said he remembers how gracious that handoff was.
“Here was a guy that was probably already working at Wintergreen for 10 years at that point and I was in my mid-20s,” Sheets said. “And he’s got to hand off to me and I was worried about how that was going to go but it couldn’t have been better. It was almost like he was teaching me what I needed to know to be his chief.”
To thank Bickley for his service, Nelson County awarded him as Grand Marshal of the Christmas Parade in Lovingston this year.