Over the course of 40 years working in Emergency Medical Services, former Hobson Fire Chief Bernard Taylor and his wife Martie have saved countless lives in Judith Basin County.
That’s why in September they were named the Volunteers of the Year by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services for their dedicated service providing emergency services, educating their community on CPR and first aid, and improving emergency standards.
The Taylors partially retired earlier this year. “It was special to both of us. We chose to be out there and help people,” Martie said. “And there were many times we got up from the Thanksgiving table and had to go on a run and leave our family, but they supported us. They were right behind us on everything."
But on Friday night at a windy Lewistown Municipal Airport, it was the community’s turn to help the Taylors and lift their spirits, as Bernard nears the end of his life.
“So we've got fire departments here from all over Judith Basin County. We have Wheatland County, we have Fergus County, we have Lewistown Fire,” said current Hobson fire chief Shawn ‘Tater’ Erickson. “We have the Forest Services here, the Department of Natural Resources, Bernard touched many people across this community.”
Bernard has bravely fought cancer for the better part to two years. In early October his condition took a turn for the worse, prompting a stay at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX. But after weeks of tests and consultations, all treatment options were exhausted. His disease was terminal.
"We were hoping for better treatment or future treatment, but he had an infection in there and it was just beyond being able to heal him,” Martie said.
So the Taylors made the difficult decision to get Bernard stabilized and head home, where he can spend the rest of the time he has left on hospice in the community he loves, surrounded by the people he loves. The Taylors left Houston Friday afternoon and landed in Lewistown around 7:30 p.m. that evening. They couldn’t have imagined the sight that awaited them on the ground.
“Since we're still part of the fire community, we get some pages, so we knew that they were planning something,” Martie said. “But we didn't know that it was going to be quite so extensive.”
Dozens of emergency service vehicles lined the terminal, lights flashing ready to welcome home their friend, mentor and hero.
“We stand on the shoulders of the people that have come before us and laid down the path for us,” Erickson, who helped organize the homecoming, said. “And so that's what we're doing here today is honoring a great man, a great individual in our community. And we're getting to do it before he passes on. And that's just a special opportunity”
Moore Fire Chief Jerry Simpson worked with Taylor on hundreds of calls over the years. He said making sure Bernard knew he was loved, respected and appreciated was the goal of all who welcomed the couple home.
“This is very, very important for us to get him home and for him to be able to see it, that's the most important thing,” Simpson said. “Just so he knows we appreciate everything he's done for everybody, and what he meant to the community.”
The airport reception was just the beginning. Once Bernard was safely in the ambulance, the caravan of lights made the trip from Lewistown to the Taylor home in Hobson. Hundreds of neighbors, friends, family, and even strangers lined the road - honking, waving and cheering.
“It made me proud that they supported him for everything he's done for the community,” Martie said. “And that's just him, it wasn't anything special to him that he was doing, it's just what his life was like and what he wanted to do. But it meant so much to us that everybody came out. It was overwhelming.”
Erickson is also neighbors with the Taylors. He wasn’t surprised by the turnout.
“We're getting a chance to bring him home with honor and dignity,” Erickson said. “And we're so fortunate to have an opportunity to get to do this while he's still with us and show him how much the community loves and supports him.”
The procession was a testament to Bernard’s dedicated, selfless service. But also to the people that supported him. Martie rode in the front seat of the ambulance and glanced back occasionally to see Bernard shedding tears of appreciation.
“The pilot that flew the plane had texted me later in the evening and said, he'd never seen anything like that in the 37 years that he had been flying,” Martie said. “He said it was a special night to remember.”
A night fit for a hero, and deservingly so.
“He’s helped everybody. He's always been there. You can always count on Bernie,” Simpson said. “So if we can help lift his spirits a little bit and get him through this before his time. We'll do whatever we can.”
Friends and neighbors organized a “fill the boot” fundraiser to help offset the cost of the flight home and continuing hospice care.