Written by Lindsey Lowe Osborne
Some 14 years ago, Nina Taylor went out on a Sunday morning to get the paper. She and her son, Steve, who was a year old at the time, had a tradition of reading it together—he preferred the comic section. At the time, Taylor was a founder of a staffing agency called Staffing World. She opened the business after a stint at another staffing agency that was eventually sold, as well as two years of modeling in New York. And on that Sunday morning, nothing seemed different, though Taylor says she was itching for a change. She liked what she did, but she wasn’t fulfilled by it.
That morning, she sat with Steve and they looked through the paper. A half-page ad caught her attention. In big letters it read, “You can become a firefighter.” She showed it to Steve. “His face lit up like a Christmas tree,” Taylor says. “His little voice said ‘Mommy, you can do that!’ Something about that kid’s encouragement makes me feel invincible. I immediately applied that Monday.”
It may have seemed like she made the decision on the whim, and she did—but something happened on the way home from applying that cemented that firefighting was what she wanted to do: She and Steve witnessed a car wreck. Taylor locked Steve in the car and went to see how she could help; she found out that the family was searching for a little girl who had been in the car. “As three of us looked surrounding the vehicle, I could hear the fire sirens coming from downtown making their way. I stood still. Then I laid on the ground near the wrecked vehicle and there was the little girl,” Taylor says. “She was still alive, but it was obvious that she wouldn’t be for long. I reached to touch her fingers amongst the wreckage and told her that she was beautiful and that I would not leave until help arrived. I watched that small baby die right before my eyes. It was in that moment, when the aunt asked if I was an off duty firefighter, that it all dawned upon me. Maybe this is what I’m really supposed to be doing.”
The next day, Taylor began training to be a firefighter. She started by doing old track workouts that she remembered from college. Along the way, she kept her intentions to herself. “I was afraid of the stigma of a woman going into a predominantly male profession,” she explains. “I didn’t want to tell my family, as sometimes that criticism can be the worst. I didn’t know if I would be hired, but I knew in my heart and soul I was one of the best—if not the best—candidates for the job.” Two months later, she started recruit school, and six months after that, in 2003, she began work at Station 24 in Bellview Heights. Though she’s moved around in the 13 years since then, she’s currently back at Station 24. “It has been a journey. I have endured typical female treatment in a male atmosphere, yet my skin is thick. I go home to shed my tears of the day’s weary loss and obstacles,” she says. “When it’s time for my shift again, I put on my wonder woman shirt under my uniform (my son bought it for me) and tackle another 24 hours in hopes of making a positive difference in someone’s life.”
In addition to firefighting, Taylor also owns Fresh Face Photography. She says photography can be an escape from the inevitable sorrow she encounters as a firefighter. “Photography is a way for me to show people how I see them: beautiful!” she says. “On my days away from the department, I book events, weddings, photo shoots, or just shoot around for fun. I usually bake something sweet, give it away, and take pictures. Photography is my therapy after a bad day of firefighting.” Those bad days come, of course; firefighters don’t just show up for fires, but for any kind of trauma, and Taylor has been a part of the hardest days of many people’s lives. But there’s also a great sense of fulfillment in this job that Taylor never got before. “I’m older and wiser, and my compassion has grown to no ends with the numerous people I encounter. With that comes the sorrow of watching a life lost,” she says.
“But the rewarding thing is the look on someone’s face that says, ‘I’m grateful that you came to help me.’ I get it often from my patients and victims of a fire,” she continues. “I have delivered many children in homes and I can tell you firsthand that it’s beautiful when another woman says, ‘Thank God you were here.’ They share their lives with me, even in loss, and that is something most people never get to experience up.”