Firefighters 49 years of volunteer service earns recognition

Corbett's Bob Layton is up for state award for his commitment to community

CORBETT - With nearly half a century as a volunteer firefighter under his belt, longtime Corbett resident Bob Layton has responded to thousands of fires and medical calls over the years and his contributions have not gone unnoticed.

Layton, who has served with Multnomah County Rural Fire Protection District No. 14 for 49 years, is one of the nominees for the Oregon Volunteer Firefighters Association Lifetime Achievement award. The winner will be announced tonight at the organization's conference in Baker.

'Bob Layton is one of the most dedicated and committed individuals I have met,' Bryson wrote. 'He is like the Energizer Bunny - he just keeps on going.'

That seems like an apt description for the 71-year-old man who had two heart attacks and a quadruple bypass on May 18, 1980 - they day Mount St. Helens erupted. Even though doctors would have suggested that someone in his position take it easy, Layton continued to volunteer with the department.

'His dedication and commitment day after day is amazing,' firefighter Dennis Bryson wrote in a letter nominating Layton for the award, adding that Layton once responded to a call, operating a water tender at a house fire, while he was on crutches.

Volunteering with the Corbett fire department is a family thing. Layton's nephew, Tom Layton, is the fire chief, his grandson, Shawn Layton, is a volunteer and his brother, Jim Layton, served with the department for a number of years before retiring.

Layton, who lives 2 miles from the Corbett fire station, is usually quick to respond to a call.

'I'm at the top of the seniority list,' Layton said.

At times, there have been volunteers who are older than Layton, but none with as many years of service.

A commitment to his community sparked his initial involvement.

'It was something I could do for the community, and I wanted to get involved,' he said.

In his years as a volunteer with the department, Layton has seen everything from small blazes and minor car wrecks to the arson fire that demolished the old Corbett grade school.

'When that pager goes off, you never know what you are going to get,' Layton said. 'I've come across so many crazy things. 'Perhaps the worst is when little kids are involved, or get killed.'

This topic is particularly tough for Layton, whose 17-year-old son was killed in a car accident in the area in 1974.

'It's a small community,' Layton said. 'You never know if it's going to be a friend or a relative.'

Layton has held every office in the department, working his way up to chief and then moving back down the ranks.

' … When I became chief … Bob was someone who I often consulted for advice,' Bryson wrote. 'While we have had candid differences of opinion, he is someone who I have always respected.'

Layton's primary role these days is as a lieutenant and driver of a 1,500-gallon water tender. He also sometime acts as a driving instructor and is responsible for going over a weekly checklist to make sure his rig is in working order.

When he is not responding to calls, Layton spends his time with his wife, Dona. They will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary next month.

'We try to travel whenever we can, but we don't get away too far,' Layton said.

After he retired from his position as a heavy equipment operator for Multnomah County, Layton also tried his hand at gardening, but eventually gave up after the deer and the raccoons got the better of his efforts.

For now, he is content simply to spend time with his family and continue volunteering with the Corbett fire department. He hopes to serve for at least one more year, as he is determined to reach the 50-year mark as a volunteer.

Reporter Erin Shea can be reached by calling 503-492-5118, or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..