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Hobart fire chief honored by Thunderbirds for heroism

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Updated: August 5, 2012 6:26AM



The Gary South Shore Air Show kicks off this week and a local hero is the recipient of the inaugural flight.

Hobart Fire Chief Brian Taylor flew Tuesday with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds in a U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter jet as a reward for his rescue of 4-year-old Andrew Collins in a Dec. 10 fire that claimed the life of Jennifer Teel, Collins’ mother.

Andrew looked on in awe at Taylor, who held the red-haired, freckle-faced little boy during the presentation.

The Thunderbirds are an Air Combat Command unit that tours the country as Air Force ambassadors, demonstrating the aerial skills of the team for the public.

Taylor, a former Air Force serviceman, said he was honored to fly with the Thunderbirds.

“I’m truly grateful,” Taylor said. “The Thunderbirds are second-to-none.” The flight was expected to last about an hour.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson presented the Thunderbirds with a key to the city while commending Taylor and other emergency personnel across the country for their “bravery” and “selflessness.”

“You are an official part of Team Gary,” Freeman-Wilson told Thunderbirds Capt. Ryan Riley and Maj. Caroline Jensen. “This is a great gesture for the Hometown Hero. We are glad you are here and glad you’re going to be a part of our Air Show.” The Air Show takes place July 6-8 at Marquette Park in Gary.

Riley said a Hometown Hero is selected in each city where the Thunderbirds perform, and Taylor is an especially significant hero.

Since Taylor is a firefighter, “we share commonalities,” Riley said. “The idea of service before self. They’re all professionals.”

While Andrew didn’t fly with his friend and hero Taylor, his grandmother Maria Jones said Andrew is infatuated with planes. Andrew and his brother Landon Teel, 1, who was also rescued in the fire, are living with Jones since their mother’s death.

Every day since they got the invitation to attend the Hometown Hero presentation, Andrew had asked when they would go see the planes, Jones said.

Still, on a 95-degree day, Andrew said he was more excited for ice cream after the event than seeing the plane take off.



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