A Hero Among Us
Obvious’ Kyle Taylor leads an admirable double life.
It’s Wednesday, September 1st, 2021. News reports of a fast-growing fire off Lucas Valley Road in Marin County, California flash across my screen.
I call my friend and colleague Kyle Taylor — turns out his home in Nicasio is closest to the actual blaze. He picks up. The sound of wind whipping against his phone terrifies me. Is he evacuating? What’s going on?
“Are you ok?!” I blurt out.
“Yeah, I’m up on the ridge fighting this fire! We got it under control, it’s gonna be ok! Gotta run!”
He hangs up, leaving me speechless.
A few hours later, he’s back at work for Obvious Ventures, dropping me emails about our Annual Meeting.
When I spoke to Kyle about his public service, he seemed only capable of gushing about everyone but himself. His wife, who is “supportive and proud, but nervous” about his volunteer firefighting. Robyn Burton, Deputy Chief of the Nicasio Volunteer Fire Department, whom he called “a total badass.” And his father. The Arkansas town in which Kyle’s father was born and raised — and in which he lived until he left the South — didn’t have a public works department, so his dad would spend weekends doing everything from painting swing sets to clearing brush in parks. That meant Kyle did, too.
“We were always doing volunteer work when I was growing up. It didn’t feel like volunteer work. It was just what you did.”
From his time helping organizations in St. Louis while attending graduate school to volunteering in Harlem while at Bridgewater Associates, this ethic has stayed with him ever since childhood.
It comes as no surprise that this drove Kyle to the position he is in today as a volunteer firefighter in Nicasio. And it wasn’t as easy as you might think.
Kyle and his family moved to Nicasio from San Francisco in Spring 2020, just as the pandemic hit. When so many hunkered down, that was when Kyle eagerly stepped up.
There was a catch.
“They said ‘Great! We’re going to start training you on the engines and the equipment. You can’t go out on a call for six months because you have to take night classes at a community college and get your certifications first.’ They have a high threshold.”
For six months he took night classes on Tuesdays at the College of Marin in Novato, from 5–10pm, and on nights with lab requirements he was often there until 11pm. While the classes were partly subsidized by the state and the volunteer fire department, he did have to reach into his own pocket for the Emergency Medical Responder (“EMR”) certification course. And full EMR certification required close contact with other people, which at the time, felt nothing short of life-risking.
“They couldn’t fully certify us if you don’t get your hands on people, if you’re not in a class working through scenarios. So most of my classes were in-person, I was masking up, and sometimes feet away from others. So, yeah, it was a risk.”
All with a toddler and a pregnant, entrepreneur wife at home — but she supported him, and he did it.
In January 2021, Kyle was ready to go out. Things were quiet for a while, given the pandemic surge was in full swing. But as people began venturing out, the calls started coming in. With only a dozen volunteers covering an area of 40 square miles, each and every one of them is critical to the cause.
“A group of folks camping down by the reservoir lit a campfire and it got out of control. We had a barn fire at a horse farm. It all started picking up.”
He once again heaps praise on the community in their ability to respond to an increase in activity, especially during such a tenuous wildfire season:
“We were without a wildfire truck until about two years ago, got a few grants here and there, but we largely raise our own money. The community gives us money. And thank goodness, because we couldn’t have the latest, safe equipment if we didn’t have these private donations. That’s the nature of a volunteer fire department. You bootstrap it.”
And he’s clearly humbled to be a part of that team. Every other word of his was filled with praise for them.
For our most recent 1:1, Kyle and I met up at Ranchio Nicasio for a Pliny. We talked Obvious Ventures shop, as well as the ins and outs of the (volunteer) job. As we walked out, with a barely detectable haze lingering between us, he showed me The McLeod — “a firefighter’s best friend.” He demonstrated how it was used in the field, and specifically how it helps to stop fires (at least vegetation fires) in their tracks.
Later that evening a storm front moved into West Marin, and with it a bit of rain — and dry lightning, a nightmare for Northern Californians. As my wife and I sat apprehensively transfixed by the flashes of light, I picked up the phone and texted Kyle to check in. Was he as worried as I was?
He may have been, but didn’t act like it.
I later asked him if I could write a short story about his service.
“Sure,” he said. “Hopefully it won’t be too boring.”
It’s not, Kyle. Far from it.
We couldn’t be prouder to be on your team at Obvious.