Harrington firefighter lauded for legacy of community service

Harrington Fire Department lifetime member Robert E. Taylor was awarded the Delaware Volunteer Firefighter’s Association Firefighter of the Year Award last month in Dover. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

Harrington Fire Department lifetime member Robert E. Taylor was awarded the Delaware Volunteer Firefighter’s Association Firefighter of the Year Award last month in Dover. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

HARRINGTON — Some 42 years later, the emotions quickly bubbled to the surface.

Choking up at times and pausing to gather himself at others, Robert E. Taylor worked through a re-telling of the fire response he nearly didn’t survive.

“I’ve been in a couple tight situations, but never that close,” said the 77-year-old who was named the state’s Fireman of the Year at the annual Delaware Volunteer Firefighter’s Association conference in Dover recently.

Responding to a Simmons Street call with other Harrington Fire Company members, Mr. Taylor found himself in serious trouble after one of his legs

Harrington Fire Department lifetime member Robert Taylor sits inside the company’s rec room next to photos of past chiefs.  Mr. Taylor is a past-president and past-chief and has served the people of Harrington as a firefighter for over 50 years. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

Harrington Fire Department lifetime member Robert Taylor sits inside the company’s rec room next to photos of past chiefs. Mr. Taylor is a past-president and past-chief and has served the people of Harrington as a firefighter for over 50 years. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

broke through the roof of a blazing structure.

“My pants were not fire-resistant and they melted into my leg,” Mr. Taylor said.

By some stroke of fortune or perhaps miracle, Mr. Taylor somehow pulled himself back out and balanced on a ridge pole at the top of the residence.

As he crawled toward a safe exit, fellow firefighters Harold Brode and Dave Lawson were already in full rescue mode and coming his way to take him down via a ladder.

“It wasn’t courage for me but courage for those guys who were taking a chance,” Mr. Taylor said. “They didn’t think — they just did.”

Mr. Taylor was transported to Milford Memorial Hospital with a stop at a service station along the way to gather ice for his wounds. Eventually, he was bound for the Crozer Burn Center in Chester, Pennsylvania and was hospitalized for a month. Another painful month followed at home before even a small semblance of normalcy returned.

In the two months off his feet, Mr. Taylor had ample time to contemplate what had happened and who he was.

“I felt the Lord just picked me up and took me out of there,” Mr. Taylor said. “That’s when I knew I had to change the way I lived and how I felt about things.”

The Asbury United Methodist Church congregation gained a fully engaged member willing to stay active in orchestrating Sunday school classes, becoming a lay leader for the church and even singing along with the choir.

“I couldn’t sing but made joyful noise,” Mr. Taylor said.

When receiving his top firefighter award last month, Mr. Taylor said no acceptance speech was required.

“I couldn’t have said anything anyhow,” Mr. Taylor said.

He received the nod after 54 years of community service.

“When the state goes along and sees what you’ve done, that means a lot,” Mr. Taylor said.

Mr. Taylor arrived in Dover not knowing what was in store. In fact, he believed his EMS/firefighting son was the one to be honored.

“I thought he was getting an award,” Mr. Taylor said. “I bought it up until they called my name.”

Humbly downplaying more than five decades of good deeds and community contributions, the honoree said he had no inclination it would instead be

Mr. Taylor is pictured in the late 1980s. (Submitted photo)

Mr. Taylor is pictured in the late 1980s. (Submitted photo)

his night.

“I didn’t see any reason why I should get it,” Mr. Taylor said. “I haven’t been active in the last few years.”

His introduction to firefighting came nonchalantly in 1962, as his next-door neighbor and fire chief Doug Mills asked him to come to the fire station to visit with assistant chief Walter Messick.

He was part of the Taylor Hardware family business at the time, and was able to have tremendous flexibility and availability when it came to sudden departures for a fire call.

“They needed help and I was in town during the day,” Mr. Taylor said.

So his eventual marriage to next-door neighbor Betty seemed like a natural fit with her own firefighting family’s background. Ms. Taylor was eventually honored for being a 50-year member of the auxiliary and taking various leadership positions throughout the half decade of service.

What to do

And what’s his advice for someone considering the same path?

Harrington Fire Company member Robert E. Taylor is pictured standing next to a truck in the early 1980s. (Submitted photo)

Harrington Fire Company member Robert E. Taylor is pictured standing next to a truck in the early 1980s. (Submitted photo)

“If you like to volunteer, do it,” Mr. Taylor said. “Be available and go to fire schools and get training, and pitch in however you can.”

There are standards that must be met, he said.

“Keep yourself clean and don’t drink, and smoke and carry on,” Mr. Taylor said. “Doing drugs won’t cut it.”

Current Harrington FC President Earl K. “Kenny” Brode said Mr. Taylor is just one of two members since 1902 to have held the positions of chief, president and ambulance driver.

“There’s a tremendous value about him and a lot of the older guys who got us to where we are today,” President Brode said.

“He was always so involved in the community not only with the fire company, but so with many other organizations and activities. Everybody in the community knows him and his family.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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