Orleans County gets its first female fire chief

VIRGINIA KROPF / CONTRIBUTORA Medina woman has become the first female fire chief in Orleans County. Debbie Taylor, shown here with East Shelby’s newest fire truck, was elected to the post at the November meeting of East Shelby Volunteer Fire Company.  

MEDINA – Orleans County is celebrating the election of its first female fire chief.

Debbie Taylor became a member of East Shelby Volunteer Fire Company at the age of 21. After moving away, she returned and rejoined the fire company 16 years ago.

When she first joined the company, she had no thought of becoming a longtime member, let alone becoming a fire chief.

“It wasn’t even on my radar,” she said.

Taylor received the honor at the East Shelby company’s November meeting.

David Green, who will mark 60 years as a member on Dec. 13 and has served in many posts including chief, has nothing but praise for Taylor, who he called loyal, hard working and dedicated.

“She’s been a member for quite a few years and she works hard,” Green said. “She is quick to learn things, she’s well organized and she’s got the personality to do a really great job.”

Taylor switched positions with former chief Andy Beach, who has a new baby at home and is very busy on his farm. Beach was anxious to step down, according to Taylor.

Becoming a firefighter was a natural thing for Taylor.

“I grew up watching the TV show ‘Emergency,” and when I married Jeff, both he and his father were members of East Shelby fire company,” she said. “I just wanted to do something for my community.”

Serving the fire company is a family activity for the Taylors. Husband Jeff is fire captain and son Devon is first assistant chief. Debbie has worked her way up from lieutenant, to captain and second assistant chief. She hopes to some day pass the chief’s hat to her son.

“There is no competition among us. We have a great fire company and we all work very well together," she said. "The fire company is my second family.”

Jeff was first assistant chief and he stepped back so that Devon and Debbie could advance.

Taylor is a school bus driver for the Medina school district, so she's usually free to answer a fire call.

“I’m still going to be learning things, with all the modern technology. It's always changing,” she said.

Taylor is not intimidated by driving even the biggest fire truck. She has had her CDL license since she was 19 and got it to drive a milk truck.

The biggest challenge, she said, is the fact of the unknown when responding to a call.

“You don’t know what you’re going to encounter,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of help from Dale Banker, director of Orleans County Emergency Management, and Terry Bentley, Orleans 2.”

Banker said a female fire chief is a great thing for the county.

“She’ll be a role model for any lady who wants to become a firefighter or EMS member,” he said. “As long as they are properly trained, a woman can do well in a firefighting role.”

Taylor joins a group of dedicated female firefighters coming up the ranks, who Banker says the county is fortunate to have, and he wouldn’t be surprised to see any one of them become chief of their fire company. These include Kristin McAdoo, assistant chief of Ridgeway Volunteer Fire Company and the first woman to hold a chief’s post in that company; Crystal Luckman and her sister Tiffany Petry in Shelby; Sue Maslyn, EMS captain in Kendall; Patty Knapp, EMS captain in Holley; and Robin Hughson, captain in Carlton.

“I look forward to working with Debbie or any of the ladies,” Banker said. “With the shortage of firefighters and EMS personnel, these women fill an important role.”

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