Bill Tylor wasn’t an ideal patient, he’ll admit it.
He wouldn’t listen, shouted at medics and wanted to change his body position, even though the EMT in him knew it could do more harm than good.
But Tylor, 58, of Alder isn’t used to being on the receiving side of emergency aid. As battalion chief of Pierce 23 Fire & Rescue, he’s one of the professionals who show up when people’s homes burn, their cars crash or their bodies fail.
On July 13, he was the one who needed help.
Tylor and his family were in Graham getting hay for their horses. He slipped from the top of a trailer and fell eight to 10 feet, landing on his head.
His neck didn’t break, but his spinal cord was badly injured, leaving him a quadriplegic. He’s been in the hospital ever since, working to regain use of his limbs.
He’s making progress; Tylor now has some movement in his fingers and legs, especially on the left side.
Still, there’s uncertainty. “Nobody can tell us what the stopping point (of his progress) will be,” said his wife, Cheryl.
Tylor started with Pierce 23 as a volunteer more than a decade ago and eventually was hired full-time. The fire district covers roughly 70 square miles in the shadow of Mount Rainier, including the communities of Ashford and Elbe.
Tylor also is a senior EMS instructor for the state, with a long list of former students who’ve learned their skills from him.
Garry Olson, chief of Pierce 23, described his second-in-command as an amiable co-worker and dedicated professional, the kind who “has to be ordered to go home at night.”
Olson and Tylor are the only full-time paid employees in the department, which also has roughly 25 volunteers.
Tylor is the “go-to guy for the volunteers,” Olson said. “He’s wiling to sit around here until 10, 11 o’clock at night (if someone needs him). He’s well-liked and respected.”
The accident that changed Tylor’s life hasn’t robbed him of his friendly disposition, or his sense of humor.
He cracked a few jokes as he spoke to a reporter at the rehabilitation center at Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup, where he’s staying as he does occupational and physical therapy.
There was a thud in the ceiling, and Tylor teased that “another baby dropped.” He explained with a sly smile that the maternity ward is above his room.
But he was serious when he talked about the pride he takes in his work. He likes helping people, he said, and he won’t lie – the adrenaline rush that comes with barreling toward an emergency, sirens howling, is a draw, too.
“I’m an adrenaline junkie,” Tylor said.
He got his first taste as a teen, volunteering as a firefighter in Federal Way. The first house fire he responded to turned out to be his grandparents’ mobile home. They were OK, but the home was destroyed.
An old engraved trunk survived. It was passed onto Tylor’s father and then eventually to him – a reminder of his grandparents, and of the first of many fires to come.
Tylor has worked in other fields as well. A Navy veteran, he eventually became a master auto technician. He and his wife had three daughters, who are all adults now.
“When I’d raised my kids and the opportunity came up, she let me do what I wanted to do,” he said, looking at Cheryl with another smile.
He meant being a firefighter.
He can’t wait to go back.
He is buoyed by support from his fire district and other local first responders and community members. He’s deeply grateful, he said.
The experience has been humbling and eye opening, Tylor said.
“You don’t really understand when you treat patients that are in this condition what they’re really experiencing,” he said, sitting in a wheelchair at the hospital.
“I’ve learned a lot being like this, and how much trust these patients have to have in people.
I’m a little bit humble (now). Maybe a lot humble.”
He’s also hopeful – that he’ll be back on his feet again and back to the job he loves.
The same passion, with a new perspective.
“I’ll be a different battalion chief,” he said.
HOW TO HELP
Bill Tylor has medical insurance, but it doesn’t cover all expenses related to his treatment and recovery.
A donation account is set up at First Citizens Bank; contributions to the Tylor Fund can be made at any branch.
Fundraisers also are being planned. People interested in helping should contact Pierce 23 Fire & Rescue at 360-569-2752.
Tylor’s family is updating his progress at www.caringbridge.org/visit/Tylor.