The "end of an era" for Roanoke City Fire Department

I haven’t posted in a few days because I couldn’t ..I’m not real sure I can now but I’m gonna try …

Retired Battalion Chief  Bobbie (I’ve been spelling it with a “Y” by mistake) Slayton has passed away from complications due to a stroke suffered on December 26th, 2010.  The Chief will be missed by many!  His passing was peaceful and he was surrounded by his  2 true loves … his Family and the Fire Department.

Roanoke will not be the same.  Something as simple as my title for this post is a good example. We are not the “Roanoke City Fire Department” anymore .. we are Roanoke Fire / EMS and  Bobbie seen more than just a name change while working. If you could ask him, he’d tell ya that he worked  “the good years”.

Chief was hired by the Roanoke Fire Department on December 6, 1965 … I was born in 1969.  Bobby encompassed the title of this site …. “Wooden Ladders and Iron Firemen” .  He came to work when you had to be tough to be a fireman … back then, the ladders were made of wood and the men of iron. Today, at times; it seems just the opposite and Chief Slayton witnessed that transition first hand.

I couldn’t guess how many uniform changes Bobbie had seen. The color, material and even our patches. We’ve been blue, gray … cotton and polyester. He seen the “milk man” uniform… button up shirts to t-shirts. They even were allowed to wear beards at one point.

He watched our trucks change. Now, some folks tried to kid him and say that he was here with the horses but that’s not true. He did see our rigs go from gray to yellow to red. He witnessed the transition from open cabs to enclosed . He rode the tailboard and rode trucks with not enough “masks” for the number of men on it.  Later, he would join the new truck spec committee  …. afterwards  (and until his retirement), he would chair that committee.

Chief of Department …  he seen 8 of em…   S. Whit Vaughn was the Chief from 1962 – 1970 and was responsible for hiring Bobbie. Then came Chief A. Hughson from 1970 – 1973 , Chief  C. Holt 73 – 83, Chief Kerley 83 – 87, Chief H. McKinney Jr. 87 – 89, Chief R. Quarles 89 – 95, Chief J. Grisby 1995-2007 and Chief D. Hoback.

When Bobbie was hired, we were working on a “2 platoon” system … we now have 3. He seen “kelly days” turn to vacations, holidays and now to “paid time off”. Despite all the changes he seen, the one thing that didn’t change was him.

In my eyes, Bobbie was kind of a simple man and I don’t mean that disrespectful. He didn’t need all the “fancy” stuff. He was a hard worker and his labors seemed to be enough. He earned his Department nick name by working. The “older” generation of firemen called him “Slicky” or “Slicky Slayton”. It wasn’t because he was hard to catch, quick witted or fast on his feet. He was called “slicky” because more often than not, you’d find him with oil or grease on his hands.

He loved working on vehicles. He did it all his life and earned the reputation as a top mechanic. Whatever station Bobbie was assigned to had to have a work bench, vice and grinder. His garage at home is bigger than my barns. He could fix ANYTHING. Just last year, I was hauling a tractor home from Ohio. I had a mechanical problem along the way and who do you think I called??  Not “Triple A” … I called Bobbie and he had me up, running and home home by midnight over the phone!

Like any good mechanic, Bobbie loved racing. It didn’t matter if it was in Garden City, up Williamson Road or any NASCAR track …  just so it involved going fast.  Bobbie, my dad and Captain Tony Young (ret.) even went to the Richard Petty Driving School. They traveled to countless Nascar events including trips to Rockingham and the Daytona 500. I was lucky enough to make a few of those trips myself.

L-R Tony Young, Bobbie Slayton, Willie Wines Sr

Playing cards was another favorite pass time of Bobbie’s and he did a lot of that while on those trips and even at the station. Hearts or Spades but usually Hearts. LMAO .. I wish you could have seen some of those firehouse games. Dad and Bobbie played so much together that they almost knew what the other had or was going to do. I say “almost” because it didn’t always work out that way. When it didn’t … and Pop played the wrong card … LOOK OUT. If someone had put a dollar in a jar for every coffee cup Bobbie slung across the room and broke, we’d be rich! He got so mad one year in Daytona over a misplayed card that he actually slept in the van … I think Pop would sometimes make a bad play just to see Bobbie “blow”  LMAO.

Pop and Bobbie traveled a lot together. They both pulled a 2nd job driving a tour or “charter” bus for a big company here in town … Abbott Bus Lines. They even tricked me into hiring on so I got to take a few trips with them as well. TONS of good memories and funny stories. Bobbie and his “short cuts” … LOL.

On the job, Pop worked under and with Chief Slayton for a long time. Bobbie was dad’s “District” Chief when he was assigned to Station #6. He helped me get hired. I would go visit Pop at the station and the Chief would come by to talk to me. He wanted to make sure I was working out and running (back then we had to run  a mile and a half in the agility testing). He taught me how to sit in an interview and coached me on how to present myself. I have no doubt that his efforts helped me in the process.

A few years later, Pop would move to Station #1 and become Bobbie’s driver. Captain Carl Roberts, Lieutenants Craig Sellers and Clayton Martin (now  both Captains) and firefighters Jimmy Jennings and my Dad (both now retired) were assigned to Ladder 1. What a crew! Thousands of stories from that bunch and Bobbie always right in the center of em. Some times, I would work for Pop so he could be off and that meant that I would drive Bobbie…. I’m pretty sure I made him nervous night, after I went the wrong way down a “one way” he drove me the rest of the shift …LOL.

Later in my career, I too would have the honor of working for Bobbie directly. While I was Captain at Station #9-C,  the Department made a big Battalion “shuffle”. Bobbie was moved from B-shift to “C” .  He was a fair Chief.  He put “the men” first in every thought and decision. He retired from C-shift in July 2010 after 44 years and 8 months of Service to our City. His tenure is 2nd only to Walter Dodson who served 44 years and 10 months. Bobbie was a District / Battalion Chief  longer than I have been on the job!

He’s gone but will never be forgotten. He is and shall remain such a HUGE part of our history. His memory will live on through the lessons he taught. Through the policies and procedures he set in place. Through the examples he laid. Through the PRIDE AND HONOR for the job he instilled in our hearts and, most of all; through his son Zach.

I know personally how proud Bobbie was to see his son come to the job. The bond of a father and son who are both on the job is different and difficult to explain. I feel like Bobbie is at peace knowing that Zach (and the rest of his family)  is surrounded by his Fire Department  FAMILY… he is not nor will he ever be alone.  It’s our job .. our DUTY to pick up where  Chief  Bobbie left off. Moving forward … working hard, honest and most of all, looking after each other.

Thanks for all you’ve left us Chief … rest easy because you’ve earned it … WELL DONE!

Captain Wines Bo.

L-R Chief Hoback, Chief Bobbie Slayton, Chief Tartaglia photo by Mike Overacker

Rhett also has a great post on Bobbie  HERE or find the local newspaper article HERE.  Arrangments are as follows…

VIEWING    Tuesday, January 11, 2011

                         Oakey’s Downtown

                         2-4 pm and 6-8 pm

FUNERAL    Wednesday, January 12, 2011

                         First Baptist Church  Roanoke, Va.