Hundreds of firefighters and residents gathered in solidarity in Port Richmond last Wednesday evening to honor Fire Capt. John Taylor and firefighter Rey Rubio for giving the ultimate sacrifice exactly 10 years ago.
Stationed at Engine 28, 2520 E. Ontario St., Taylor and Rubio perished on the evening of Aug. 20, 2004, while responding to a one-alarm fire in a rowhome on the 3600 block of Belgrade St. The basement blaze was caused by the combustion of equipment and plants of a small-scale marijuana-growing operation.
Sponsored by Port Richmond on Patrol and Civic Association (PROPAC), the 10th anniversary memorial commenced feet away from the site of the fire with the blessing of a bucket of carnations by the Rev. Ed Brady, pastor of St. Anne parish on Lehigh Avenue, and the recitation of the three cardinal prayers of the rosary: “The Lord’s Prayer,” “Hail Mary” and “Glory Be.”
Red, gold, and black bows blew in the breeze, and the sound of bagpipes from the Philadelphia Police and Fire Pipe and Drums filled the air as the crowd, flanked by fire trucks, then processed to Engine 28.
Patty-Pat Kozlowski, former president and current executive director of PROPAC, spoke about the history of the incident and the community’s constant appreciation for the firefighters’ service.
Alluding to incidents where the actions of firefighters have been questioned in other neighborhoods, Kozlowski said Port Richmond calls its firefighters “heroes.”
“We are Port Richmond, where we have more church steeples and playgrounds than the rest of the city,” Kozlowski said. “Taylor and Rubio were our guys, our heroes. Taylor and Rubio are ours. We are Port Richmond, and Engine 28 is ours.”
Standing with Ken Paul, president of PROPAC, and Maryann Trombetta, president of Port Richmond Town Watch, Kozlowski was followed in speech by Capt. James Williamson of Engine 28.
“[Taylor and Rubio] were where they were supposed to be and doing what they were supposed to do and as a result of that, they died heroes,” Williamson said, “and in a community like this, I know their memories will live forever.”
Rev. Brady led the crowd in one final prayer, “The Firefighters’ Prayer” — the prayer inscribed on the stone memorial installed at Engine 28 in 2005 for all five firefighters of the firehouse who have perished in the line of duty — before residents of the 3600 block of Belgrade and the family of Taylor laid wreaths in front of the memorial.
A stream of firefighters and other community members followed, each laying a single flower at the stone.
After the ceremony, the crowd, including Taylor’s family, was invited into Engine 28 for refreshments.
Lauren Taylor, 29, the daughter of Taylor, said after the ceremony that the family was very honored and felt respected that the community still remembered her father.
“It really shows what a brotherhood the firefighters are,” said Virginia Stock, 70, the sister of Taylor. “Johnny loved the Fire Department and he would be really proud of what they and the community did here today.”
What started as a simple bow initiative – members of PROPAC went door-to-door selling bows from Jean’s Crafts to residents to honor the firefighters – quickly grew to the larger ceremony that concluded just before the rain began to fall.
“[PROPAC] wanted everyone to have the bow and then it became bigger than that,” Paul said. “People tend to forget and we wanted to memorialize [the anniversary]. We just didn’t want to forget about them and the sacrifices they made for this neighborhood.” ••