Former Corbett Fire Chief Tom Layton earns state honor

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Tom Layton is recognized for his efforts as a volunteer firefighter.Tom Layton, Corbett’s former fire chief of 17 years — the longest-acting fire chief in the district’s history — has been named Oregon Volunteer Firefighter of the Year.

The Oregon Volunteer Firefighters Association “overwhelmingly” voted him in, according to a letter written by Troy Snelling, president of the Multnomah County Rural Fire Protection District No. 14.

“Dedicated, committed, hardworking, organized, and forward thinking are all terms that can be used to describe Tom Layton,” Snelling wrote in favor of Layton’s nomination.

But the former chief’s actions speak louder than words.

Layton, 55, joined Rural Fire Protection District No. 14 33 years ago, when he was 22. He stepped down as chief this winter and has been the district’s assistant fire chief since Jan. 1.

Layton has responded to 47 percent of the more than 400 calls at his home station, and participated in 37 of 38 department drills in 2012.

Snelling wrote, “One of the hallmarks of Tom’s tenure as chief was the importance of education for all firefighters.”

Layton led by example: He is a firefighter 1, interface wild land firefighter, pump operator, wild land engine boss, water supply apparatus operator, instructor 1, apparatus driver and EMT.

Not about paychecks

Volunteer district firefighters train the same as paid firefighters and receive the same certifications, but they don’t get paid.

“As a volunteer, your satisfaction comes from what you give back to the community,” said Layton, who volunteers outside his full-time day job as an electrician with Dynaletric Oregon anywhere between eight and 20 hours or more for the fire department.

“It’s not about paychecks or long-term career goals, it’s about giving back to your community and being apart of it, and it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.”

As Corbett’s chief, Layton said he goes to the worst situations in hopes of making them better.

He and crews have saved people from car wrecks and fires, tended bad injuries and conducted search and rescues throughout the area.

Often, incidents he responds to involve people close to him — friends, family and neighbors.

Born and raised in Corbett (class of 1975), Layton 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 56 years, and his father volunteered 10 years.

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.

Father to the community

As a father, Layton has been heavily involved with the Corbett school system. He organized the Donkey Basketball Tournament fundraiser, chaperoned the Senior All-Night Party, officiated at track meets, worked with the Corbett Education Foundation to sponsor an art show, and served on the school district’s Facility Committee.

Likewise, Layton has been part of the Corbett fire department’s annual community activities, attended all board of directors meetings, and presented the district No. 14 budget at budget meetings.

The fire department benefited from Layton’s ability to look ahead and anticipate coming changes, the nomination letter said.

While the department experienced a nearly 30-percent increase in call volume and major changes in the types of calls it responds to, under his leadership, Layton increased training requirements, purchased new equipment and still managed to maintain an all-volunteer fire department without asking the voters for an increase in taxes.

“I have known and worked with Tom since he came into the fire department,” said Brent Younker, who served as Layton’s assistant chief for more than 20 years.

“He is one of the voices you like to hear on the radio on an in-coming rig when you know the situation is not improving and you need another set of eyes to asses the situation,” Younker said.

“We’ve made a difference in a lot of people’s lives,” said Layton.

Multnomah County Rural Fire Protection District No. 14, 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 three stations in Corbett, Springdale and Aims).

“It’s nice when one of those people comes back and thanks the firefighters who helped get them through,” Layton said. “Those are very rewarding and make you realize why you do the amount of work it takes to be a professional volunteer.”

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