AVON PARK - When Larry Taylor dropped out of school in the 12th grade, he never imagined where life would take him but he found his way to South Florida State College. His education at the college prepared him for the next phase of his life by providing him with the credentials to begin his career as a fire fighter.
Taylor, DeSoto County Emergency Fire Rescue fire chief, took his first class with SFSC more than two decades ago. He earned his high school diploma after successfully completing his GED exams in 1991 and his advanced technical diploma in emergency medical technician in 1997.
After graduating from SFSC, Taylor went on to earn a fire certification, an Associate in Arts degree in fire science, a Bachelor of Science in organizational management and a master's degree in public administration. He is a certified American Heart Association instructor, fire inspector, fire officer and certified emergency medical services instructor for the state of Florida.
In his capacity as fire chief since 2013, Taylor strives to maintain a collaborative work environment by improving services and management. He performs a variety of technical, administrative and supervisory work in planning, organizing, directing and implementing fire prevention, suppression and emergency medical services to prevent or minimize the loss of life and property by fire and emergency medical conditions in DeSoto County.
"It's an exciting job," Taylor said. "When the tones go off, you have no idea what you're going to find when you get there. The aspect of touching people's lives goes beyond the call of going there. People's lives are at risk."
"It's all about being well informed," he said. "We have tough decisions to make and some could end smoothly or end disastrously."
Taylor has also held positions as a firefighter and fire deputy. Since graduating, he has been named DeSoto County Paramedic of the Year in 2004 and 2011, and was nominated for Adjunct Instructor of the Year at SFSC in 2007.
The hardest part of his job is dealing with family members and by standers. "That's something they don't teach you in a book or at school," Taylor said. "You have to take the time to console people and let them know what's going on. We try our best to protect the little things that have sentimental value."
In his spare time, Taylor has spent the last decade teaching SFSC students' emergency medical services and paramedic courses. He serves as a member of SFSC's EMS and Fire Science Committee.
"When I became an instructor I was glad to be able to give back to the community," he said. "I wanted to be an instructor because of the way I was taught and treated at SFSC. I found out about the instructing position through Steve Ashworth and it was one of those things that fall right into my hands."
"It takes a special person to guide EMS students," Taylor said. "Steve Ashworth, chair of EMS and fire science programs at SFSC, has a phenomenal way of teaching and influencing the people around him. He has a way of conveying the information so every student can understand it," he said. "I've modeled my teaching career and techniques after him. He has been an instrumental part of my professional and personal success."
"As much as Larry has learned from me, I've learned from him," Ashworth said. "Larry leads by impact and example. I'm proud to call him one of our graduates."
Taylor believes that teaching a student how to potentially save someone's life is all worth it. "Teaching is something I hold down deep in my heart," he said. "The feeling you get when a student comes to you and has completed a task successfully and correct is amazing."
"Larry has been instrumental to the success of SFSC's paramedic program ever since he became one of the first instructors and continues to be," Ashworth said. "I look forward to seeing him take DeSoto County Fire Rescue to the next level by providing excellence in the highest quality of care to his community."
In the future, Taylor hopes to be in involved with the new Fire Science program coming to SFSC fall 2014. "I have watched this program grow tremendously, and it's like a little part of me is being spread from generation to generation," Taylor said. "It's my goal to help the students gain the foundation to continue their education to the next level and help them develop a real commitment to the profession."
"I've dreamed about this opportunity and took my chance at following it," Taylor said. "I've been blessed beyond belief," Taylor said. "I want to retire knowing that I did my best and that every person on my watch made it home safely."