“On August 20, 2004, John Taylor made the supreme sacrifice by virtue of his ultimate reserves of courage and heart,” said Robert F. Biolchini, president and chief executive officer of PennWell Corporation, co-presenter of the 2005 Ray Downey Courage and Valor Award. “To all who knew him, John’s sacrifice was a reflection of a character he demonstrated throughout his long career with the Philadelphia Fire Department. John Taylor sacrificed his life in the same selfless manner that Chief Ray Downey sacrificed his on September 11, 2001, staying in a deadly dangerous situation when he could have chosen to do otherwise, staying there because someone needed help, in the truly heroic tradition of the fire service.” Captain Taylor was this year’s recipient of the Ray Downey Courage and Valor Award.
“John never lost sight of the fact that the men, women, and children of the city depended on him for their lives,” Charlene Taylor said in accepting the award. “John was more than a firefighter. He was a father, a husband, a brother, and uncle, an athlete, and master of the backyard grill. He always had a ready smile and offered a broad shoulder to cry on. This reward is a reminder of what John’s life was all about, and I thank you.”
Captain John Taylor was a 32-year veteran of the Philadelphia Fire Department. On August 20, 2004, he responded on first-due Engine 28 with Firefighter Rey Rubio, an 11-year veteran; Firefighter Walter Milewski, a five-year member and the driver/pump operator; and Firefighter William Studley, a one-year rookie, to a fire in a two-story rowhouse.
On arrival, light smoke was showing. Captain Taylor placed Engine 28 and the first-due ladder company, Ladder 10, in service. Wearing full protective clothing and SCBA, Captain Taylor entered the first floor of the dwelling with Firefighters Rubio and Studley, and quickly determined that the fire was in the basement. Captain Taylor and his crew then proceeded down the narrow steps into the small basement with a 1 3/4-inch handline. The basement was filled with clutter and debris. Initial conditions were not severe; however, the fire was concealed and smoldering in a closeted area used for producing illegal drugs.
Their stream could not penetrate to the seat of the fire, and conditions in the small basement deteriorated considerably. Captain Taylor, a very knowledgeable firefighter and fire officer who fought numerous basement fires, decided to withdraw his company to the first floor. Rookie Firefighter William Studley proceeded up the basement steps. Firefighter Rubio, however, was unable to exit the basement through all the debris and clutter.
Realizing that Firefighter Rubio was in trouble, Captain Taylor would not leave the basement without his fellow firefighter. As he struggled to help free Firefighter Rubio, the fire that had been burning in the closeted drug area burst forth and consumed the basement. Conditions became critical. At 2018 hours, Captain Taylor radioed the Fire Communication Center to report that he was in serious trouble. With his air bottle empty and his face mask still in place, he died struggling to assist Firefighter Rubio in making his way out of the basement they had entered together.
Firefighter Rubio also lost his life with Captain Taylor.