Captain Bob Laylon is an exception to these two unwritten rules.
The 31-year veteran of the Sparks Fire Department never gave much thought to driving a big red engine as a child even though his father was a volunteer firefighter in the city for several years.
But while serving in the U.S. Air Force, Laylon was offered a gig as a firefighter and knew almost immediately that he had found his career.
“That’s how I got my start,” he said, “and that’s when it hit me that this is where I belong.”
So it was for more than three decades.
Now, at 55, the personable leader of Fire Station 5 has flashed his mustachioed grin in the workplace for the last time. On Saturday morning, having wrapped up his final 48-hour shift, Laylon left the dangerous and rewarding world of fire and medical rescue for the quieter, if equally satisfying, life of retirement.
“I love coming to work everyday, still,” he said, but the time feels right to step back and give the younger generation an opportunity to advance up the ranks. “There are so many talented people behind me.”
Laylon said he feels strong enough to do the job for several more years, but his good health is part of the reason why he has decided to walk away. He wants to live an active retirement and enjoy more time with his wife and two grown boys.
Besides, it’s always better to go out on top of your game, rather than when you’re all washed up, Laylon said.
Indeed, the captain leaves big shoes to be filled, particularly because he held a fiercely sought-after position on the technical rescue team.
Laylon’s departure also means the loss of essential leadership qualities that make a man’s childhood dream come true.
It takes dedication, strong work ethic, integrity and intelligence to be a good firefighter, Laylon said. Though physical attributes are necessary, it’s much more about what’s in the head and heart.
In his final days on the job, Laylon spent time reflecting on the friendships he made and the camaraderie he shared with his colleagues, which he said he will miss more than anything else.
He flipped through his scrapbook, kept diligently over the years and full of photos and newspaper clippings recalling the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of emergency calls he responded to with passion.
There was the time a photographer caught him and a colleague collapsed on the ground — not injured, just exhausted — while fighting the Sierra Center blaze of 1980.
There was the time he personally captured a six-foot alligator living in a home bathtub.
And, tragically, there are those who were lost, dead before their time.
“You never forget the children,” Laylon said.
He also said he’ll never forget the many thank-you’s residents of Sparks have given him and his colleagues for the work they do.
“That, to us, is just awesome,” Laylon said.
For all the years of selfless sacrifice he has given, it would be easy to assume that Laylon is ready to sit back and be waited on. But he still feels he has more to offer.
“I think now it’s my turn to give back to the community,” Laylon said.
He’ll be doing so in Santa Fe, N.M., where he and his wife are moving to soon.
Laylon also plans to spend some time hunting and fishing, and even talking classes at a local community college.
“The options are endless,” he said.
And choices promise an exciting future.
As for the past, Laylon will look back on his firefighting career with a mix of emotions.
“I’ll walk out the door with a smile on my face and a tear in my eye,” he said.