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Layton steps back, but not out

Corbett Fire Chief stepping back to the assistant fire chief role


As Corbett’s fire chief, Tom Layton has responded to car wrecks, medical calls and fires involving family members, friends and parents of people he grew up with.

“They recognize you when they’re having a medical emergency or trauma and it’s reassuring to see somebody they know,” Layton said. “It’s about giving back to people who’ve given to you over the years — people you’ve known your whole life.”

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - After 17 years, Tom Layton is stepping down as fire chief of the Multnomah County Rural Fire Protection District No. 14 in Corbett. He will remain as assistant chief.

After serving 17 years as fire chief of Multnomah County Rural Fire Protection District No. 14 — the longest acting fire chief in the district’s history — Layton will step back to assistant fire chief Jan. 1, 2013.

Though he had hoped to continue another few years in his position, the recommendation of the fire district board of directors and volunteer firefighters to bring on a new chief came as a surprise.

Layton has no hard feelings and hopes to be a mentor and adviser to incoming chief, Phil Dearixon.

“Four chiefs before me have all stayed at least through part of the time I’ve been chief,” Layton said. “They’ve been mentors, advisers and critics, but they’ve always been very helpful and supportive.

“This job takes hard-charging, dynamic people who are willing to work and who are selfless to the organization,” Layton said. “When it’s all over, we go home — we laugh together and we cry together. We’ve had the best of times, and we’ve had the worst of times, but we come back the next day and we’re always ready.”

Layton was raised in Corbett and grew up in one of four families in the region that have had three generations of volunteers serve the fire district. His uncle, Bob Layton, has volunteered 55 years, and his father volunteered 10 years.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Tom Layton was born and raised in Corbett and is the third generation in his family to serve on the Corbett volunteer fire department.

Layton joined the fire district 32 years ago when he was 22. In 1991, he and his wife, Gina, built a house next to the fire station where they raised their four children, who are now in high school and college.

“The passion for it gets in your blood,” Layton said. “As volunteers, we always stress family first, job second and fire department third, but it better be a strong third,” Layton said.

Over the years, Layton has had to suddenly leave dinners, ball games, Christmases, Easters and Thanksgivings, but he said hearing he’s made a difference from Corbett residents makes up for those missed experiences.

“Our community has always been really supportive of its fire department,” Layton said. “In a small town, we’re probably the go-to crew for just about anything. The sheriff’s department is great, but we’re usually the first ones there for any kind of emergency.”

The fire district, which has operated since 1949, covers 40-square miles of eastern Multnomah County, including the Columbia River Gorge, state and national parks, forest lands and the unincorporated communities of Corbett, Springdale, Aims, Latourell and Bridal Veil (with stations in Corbett, Springdale and Aims).

“One thing that’s cool with a volunteer organization is someone has expertise in everything,” Layton said. “Volunteers come from all walks of life. As type A personalities, they want to get involved and be active with special projects and events.”

Layton has worked as an electrician with Dynalectric of Portland the past 18 years, where he eventually hopes to retire. As volunteers, district firefighters train the same as paid firefighters and receive the same certifications, but they do not make paid salaries.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Tom Layton is looking forward to taking more time off and attending more Portland Winterhawks games.

“We’re fortunate that many of our guys have great employers,” Layton said. “(Dynalectric) has been very supportive of me with the fire department.”

Often, the pay comes back as cookies, pizza, checks and words of thanks.

“Even a card means a lot — that people appreciate what we’ve done and we have a sense of belonging to the community,” Layton said.

He remembers one medical call, in particular, in which a giant firefighter, Ken Gathman, was caring for Layton’s grandmother who’d fallen in the bathroom and shattered her leg. Because Gathman was so gentle and kind, the memory has stuck with Layton for years.

The past month has been filled with retrospection for Layton. Suddenly, he said, he will have a lot more free time and a different role after working up to 20 hours a week for the district during busy times. He looks forward to catching more of his children’s activities, as well as more Winterhawk games.

But he’s not leaving the fire district any time soon. Come Jan. 1, Layton will still serve the district as assistant fire chief.

“It’s the community service and knowing you’re giving back,” Layton said. “You form a brotherhood. It’s bittersweet at times because we deal with a lot of tragedy, but knowing there are a lot of people walking around today because of the work we’ve done is something good.”



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