When Ed Taylor Jr. recently stepped into the shoes of the retiring chief, Merle Adermann, the “fit” was not exact, but as Taylor had been first assistant chief for several years, he had an idea of what the “walk” in those shoes would be like.
This is an opportunity to let the community and county become better acquainted with the new chief, who talks about the Vandalia Volunteer Fire Department and some of what it means and demands to be a Vandalia fireman.
Ed Taylor Jr. is a familiar face – and voice – in the area, as he is well-known for his songwriting, singing and musical abilities. He is the owner of NOISE Music and Sound in Vandalia, and besides singing and playing with various groups, he teaches guitar and other instruments.
He is a popular and sought-after musician, well-respected for his business ethics and practice, and well-liked for his hometown, easy-going, good-natured and patient attitude.
Ed has been first assistant fire chief since 1993, and has served with the department since January 1979.
"I remember (that) my first son was just a couple of weeks old when I went on the department. Life changes a lot when you have a new baby, and then it changed a lot more when I went on the fire department, too. I was up a lot those early years,” he said, laughing. “But that’s just part of the job.”
As Taylor is usually found working in his music store, he is many times called to fight a fire during business hours.
“I just put out a sign that says ‘Fire’ on the front door. One guy came in and said ‘This is just like Andy on Mayberry. You just put a sign on the door; you don’t go fishing, you go on fire calls.’
“If I’m giving a lesson, I don’t just take off and go. I wait and then respond to the call.
“For the most part, during the day, if we get a call, I just put the sign on the door and take off. The customers are very understanding about it,” he said.
Over the Years…
…“there has been a tremendous amount of change in equipment itself, vast improvements,” Taylor said.
“Sometimes we look back at the old equipment, not just what we used, but what they used even before us, in the early days, like the horse-drawn apparatus and we wonder how they put out anything with that. But they did. They just dug in their heels and did what they had to do to make it work.
“Even in our time, there has been such improvement, not just in the fire trucks, but in the protective gear we wear, the masks we wear, to protect us, so we can do our job.
“There have been great strides in the equipment. When I first came on, we had good equipment, good trucks to work with … pretty much what was state-of-the-art in the day. As time went on, we traded this equipment and that equipment, and got newer trucks and bigger trucks, and better personal protective equipment, our gear,” he said.
But with all of the state-of-the-art equipment, one of the basic tools on the well-stocked fire-trucks is still the ax. “When we go talk to the kids in school, I always tell the kids that one of the coolest things about being a firefighter is that you get to tear stuff up and you don’t get in trouble for it,” he said, laughing.
On a more serious note, he said, “On the truck, we carry all kinds of equipment, and the thing about the fire service is, whenever someone needs help right away, and they need a lot of people with equipment right away, they call the fire department, because within two or three minutes, you can have 30 people there with all kinds of equipment to help you with whatever situation you have.
“So from that standpoint, we have to be prepared for all types of calls. It can be anything from a house fire or grass fire, or it can be an automobile wreck. We even carry GPS units to help land helicopters,” Taylor said.
Another surprising item carried on the trucks is something donated by local organizations.
“We even carry a little bag of teddy bears, for little kids who may be involved in a car wreck. It gives them something to hang on to,” Taylor said.
“We try to be prepared for just about anything that can happen.”
After a moment, Taylor said, “It can be pretty tough sometimes. In the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve seen a lot of things that were just miraculous.
“You see a situation like we have to get some one out of a car that they couldn’t get out of their own, then once they are out, they don’t have a scratch on them. It was amazing. Then there has been things I wish I had never seen.
“You remember all the situations, but there are some that really got to you.”
The firefighters in the department sit down together and talk about some of those situations, and there are also other services available to them, like counseling and MABAS (Mutual Aid Box Alarm System) chaplain services, to help them through tough situations.
Praise for Comrades
Taylor praised the work of his predecessor, retired chief Merle Adermann.
“Merle worked very hard at the job. He worked hours and hours at setting our department up in such a way that he made stepping into this position very easy,” Taylor said.
“To this day, even though I’ve been in charge here for a month, I still call on him and stop by and see him. He is an asset and I hope he stays around for a long time.”
In addition to praising his fellow firefighters in Vandalia, he did the same for surrounding departments.
“We trust each other, and every firefighter from other towns. Trust is a lot of the job, including working with other departments; we trust that they know what they are doing and they trust that we know what we are doing.”
Behind the Fire Scenes…
The well-equipped fire trucks and capable, ready firefighters do not just magically appear at the sound of the fire whistle. There is much required, including up-to-date training of the firefighters and maintenance on the trucks.
“We have fire meetings every Wednesday night, and we do a lot of hands-on training, as well as classroom training” Taylor said.
“That is one of the biggest changes in the fire services that I’ve seen over the years, the requirements now for training. The governmental regulation and involvement in it has increased tenfold. A lot of it is justified in the fact that the fires we fight today are not the fires we fought 10 or 12 years ago.”
And on the Fire Scene
“In today’s world,” Taylor said, “practically everything is plastic or some kind of man-made material, petroleum-based, so they are all made with oil. Virtually everything in a room is fuel.
“It burns really quick and really hot, and it puts off a lot of dense, toxic smoke. Years ago, your couch was made of cotton and steel and natural materials. When they burned, they didn’t put out off the toxic smoke like they do now a days,” he said.
“So consequently, there has to be a lot more training involved in knowing how to deal with it. More and more firefighters were getting hurt because of that, so more training was needed.”
The governmental requirements for the paid firefighters are exactly the same as for the volunteer fire departments, though some may vary from town to town. For example, since Vandalia has a hospital and ambulance service, the Vandalia Fire Department does not need to have First Responders or medical services. Some of the smaller towns in Fayette County do have First Responders.
“We have been very blessed in that the city of Vandalia, we have really good equipment. The city has always worked with us as far as anything we needed. They have done all they could to get the equipment or trucks we needed,” Taylor said.
It is a city-owned department and real estate taxes help pay for equipment. The Fireman’s Ball fundraiser pays for training material, fire-protection materials and sometimes, other needed equipment.
“And we get a lot of help from the community, from different businesses and organizations, and different people around,” Taylor said. “Just the people, the citizens, are very supportive.
“At a major fire, like last year, downtown, we had citizens show up with donuts, coffee, orange juice, breakfast. We really appreciate it.”
Next on the agenda
“Because of governmental regulations, we have to change all of our radio systems over,” Taylor said. “We have to go to narrow banding in the course of the next year.
“We have to get all of our radios switched over to a new radio frequency and some of our old radios can’t be reprogrammed, so we will have to replace them. That is the project we are working on.
“We also need to upgrade and do more schooling and training.” Instructors will come to Vandalia for some of the training, and some will have to be done in Effingham.
Summing Up …
“One of the things I want to say is that we have a very good working relationship with all of the fire departments around us,” Taylor said.
“We all have what is called a mutual aid agreement, so if any one of us have a fire where we need more help or more manpower, we just radio the county or the city, and they come help us.
We go help them in the same way.
“We are very fortunate that we have great people all around us that help us in any situation we need.”
For Taylor, one of the most enjoyable things the firefighters do is go to school and talk to the kids in grade school, getting to know them.
“But when they get older, they don’t get to see us anymore. The other time people see us is when we are driving down the street in a parade, and we don’t get to talk to them then.
“Unfortunately, the only other time they see us and talk with us is on the worst day of their lives, when their house is burning or they’ve just been involved in a car wreck.”