Fire chief saves child, earns F-16 ride
Accolades aside, the fire chief knows mistakes were made at the fire
By Rick Markley, Editor-in-Chief
At two or three Gs, the pilot told him in the pre-flight briefing, it will feel like you are wrestling a couple of guys but holding your own. At five Gs, you'll feel like you are losing the fight and at 9 Gs nothing moves — wherever something is, that's where it stays. They went over the procedures to eject if something went very wrong.
This was part of several hours of pre-flight instruction that Hobart, Ind., Fire Chief Brian Taylor went through prior to his 45-minute flight in an Air Force F-16 last week. The flight was in honor of him being named Hometown Hero at neighboring Gary, Ind. air show, following a dramatic rescue late last year.
Hobart is city of less than 30,000 residents that's mostly residential with a sprinkling of retail and light industry. The fire department operates out of three stations and carries a crew of 52 career firefighters. Last year the department responded to 3,650 calls, which includes ALS ambulance runs.
One of those calls came on Dec. 10, where Chief Taylor was the second to arrive on scene at mutual-aid call for a single-family residential structure fire. A mother and her two young children were inside. The initial report was that the mother was gone, one child had been found and the other was still missing.
"On arrival I had no intention of doing anything but command," Taylor said. "Anybody with kids knows that all rules go out the window."
Chief Taylor has three children.
One side of the house was fully involved and largely destroyed. Chief Taylor entered the structure to find the child — without his SCBA. He knew better; he's a 19-year veteran about to celebrate his second anniversary as fire chief.
"I didn't take the proper steps," he said. Tunnel vision had gotten the better of him, and part way into the structure he feared he might have gotten himself in trouble.
Fortunately, Chief Taylor's left-hand search yielded the room with the child. He was lying on the floor near the bed. Chief Taylor ran with the child to a waiting ambulance (see the accompanying video).
Lake Station, Ind., Fire Department's Lt. Robert Saylor rescued the other child.
"He wasn't breathing and had been in there for a significant amount of time," Chief Taylor said. "He's a miracle."
It was his first save and he regularly visited the child in the hospital. The doctors warned him that situations like this typically ended badly. But against the odds, the child's condition continued to improve.
That save is what landed Chief Taylor on the Hometown Hero radar and ultimately in the seat of the Thunderbird's F-16.
Pulling 9 Gs
During the pre-flight briefing, pilot Lt. Col. Jason Koltes, used a model of the plane to demonstrate what they would be doing in the air. Pulling 9 Gs takes a lot out of a person not used to it; Koltes told Chief Taylor to expect to be very tired the next day.
"It was incredible," he said after the flight. "It was so much more than I anticipated; the sheer power of that aircraft is awesome."
As thrilling as the ride was, it was important to Chief Taylor that a firefighter had been selected as the Hometown Hero.
"This was more of an honor for the fire service than for me personally," Chief Taylor said. "The fire service tends to experience a lack of recognition that it deserves. Over time, a community becomes complacent and views its fire department as an insurance policy."
The lift-assist calls won't be splashed across the news like was his rescue, or even his F-16 ride, but it means the world to that person who needs the help, he said.
Photo Rick Markley
In the end it all worked out — the children and Chief Taylor made it out of the fire and pilot eject mechanisms on the F-16 went unused. And whether Lt. Col. Koltes learned anything from their flight is unknown, but Chief Taylor learned plenty from that December fire.
In addition to learning to keep tunnel vision in check, he learned that his and neighboring departments had problems with primary search, accountability and command structure.
Since that fire, Chief Taylor and the neighboring chiefs have met to go over the incident and how they can improve their response at future mutual-aid incidents. Additionally, they've held joint department trainings to allow the firefighters to get to know and get used to working with one another.
And while Chief Taylor paid close attention to the instructions on how the body behaves at 9 Gs, so too has he paid attentions to the lessons from a fatal fire.