Fellow volunteers remember Bob Taylor, former chief of the Bellmore Fire Department, as someone who exemplified the ideal firefighter: selfless, compassionate, knowledgeable, and led a team that shared a close-knit bond. A former commissioner, two-time chief and chairman of the department’s board of fire commissioners, Taylor served the community for 35 years.
“He is the Bellmore Fire Department,” said Engine Co. 2 President Jay Podolski, who had served with Taylor since 1986.
On Sunday, Taylor died at age 52, of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare, degenerative illness that affects the brain. His fellow firefighters said he will be sorely missed, both as a a friend and a mentor.
“His whole adult life he was active in the department,” Chief Michael Irving said. “He was always in some kind of leadership role — he was someone you always looked up to.”
Taylor joined the department at age 14 as a junior firefighter, and went on to lead fellow members through particularly tumultuous and unprecedented times.
When department headquarters on Pettit Avenue was set ablaze by an arsonist in May 2001, Taylor, who was chief at the time, was first on the scene, and led six departments in extinguishing the blaze, which de-stroyed the firehouse’s second floor, causing an estimated $1 million in damage. As it turned out, the man charged with the crime was a Bellmore volunteer firefighter. In the days that followed, Taylor became the face of the department for the press. The fire did not hinder the department’s ability to protect the community.
“It hurts,” Taylor told the Herald at the time. “One bad person doesn’t mean the other 80 aren’t ready to protect and serve the Bellmore community. Thank God no one was seriously hurt.”
Then, only four months later, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center shook the Bellmore community. Two department members who responded to ground zero as New York City firefighters, Kevin Prior and Adam Rand, were killed that day. As chief, Taylor led the department through the tragedy and the mourning that followed.
“He kept it together,” Podolski said. “It was a tough time for everyone.”
While Taylor was chief for the second time in March 2011, a Bellmore firefighter was nearly killed when he was shot by a man who was involved in a crash. Taylor moved the volunteer away from the gunfire and into an ambulance, according to Podolski, which rushed him to Nassau University Medical Center where he made a full recovery.
“The situation was so escalated, but he was so calm,” Podolski said. “It’s his demeanor — his calm demeanor makes you feel so much better. He knew how to control a situation. You could feel that you were calmer because of him.”
Through these and other moments — such as when a house fire turned fatal, despite his attempts to enter it — Taylor acted as a vital leader who showed a deep love for his community.
“He was an asset to the community,” department Chaplain Dennis Rich said. “He had a way of leading when it dealt with dangerous situations. He was a good man.”
“It takes a special person to be a firefighter, and Bob was definitely one of them,” Podolski said, “but more than a great firefighter, he was a great person.”
While Taylor battled with his disorder, the Fire Department raised funds to support his family. Members will host an event, “Code 91 for Commissioner Bob Taylor,” on Saturday, Oct. 10, from 4 to 9 p.m. at the Four Towns Firefighter’s Training Center, at 1640 Merrick Road in Merrick, which will have a $20 50/50 raffle, $20 entrance and food fee and $20 unlimited drinks fee.
The department is accepting donations via check or Venmo @Code91ForBob. A GoFundMe page, “Help Needed for Ex-Chief Bob Taylor and His Sons,” had raised nearly $2,000 as of press time Tuesday. All funds will be donated to the Taylor family.
“He was always one of the guys you could ask any question to, and he’d help you out in any way,” Irving said. “He was a great man. . . . He is going to be missed.”
“There will be a big chunk taken out of the Bellmore Fire Department with him being gone,” Podolski said. “It’ll never be filled — he’ll always be remembered.”
A funeral mass is scheduled for Thursday at 10 a.m. at St. Barnabas Church in Bellmore. Facemasks will be required. Taylor’s family requests that donations be made to the Fireman’s Association of the State of New York’s Volunteer Firemen Home (125 Harry Howard Ave., New York, N.Y. 12534) in lieu of flowers.
Taylor is survived by his four sons, Michael, Steven, Christopher and Nicholas.