by Suzy Lowry Geno
If you’ve been in a car accident, had a heart attack or stroke, or experienced a house fire, directly or indirectly Charles Montgomery may have helped save your life!
While folks were thrilling to the heroic efforts of Randolph Mantooth and Kevin Tighe playing some of the very first paramedics at the Los Angeles Fire Department during the 1970s TV show "Emergency," Chief Montgomery was helping instigate the same type programs in Alabama in real life!
Montgomery was one of the first five medics who put the first rescue truck into service in Alabama in Birmingham.
But that is just a small sampling of what Montgomery’s life meant to those in north central Alabama and all of the state.
Chief Montgomery died April 10 of this year at his home farm, C&C Farms, about 3.5 miles outside of Oneonta, where he had retired in 2006 after serving more than 27 years as that city’s fire chief.
Chief Montgomery had fought and survived cancer in the 1990s, but it was a combination of health problems which finally claimed his life at the age of 73.
Chief’s career was wide and varied, but it seemed everything he did or accomplished was a stepping stone on the way to help others.
He basically grew up in and around the Irondale area of Jefferson County.
He proudly served in the U.S. Air Force and then later retired from the City of Birmingham as a Lt. Fire/Medic.
He then served for 5 years as the Riverside (St. Clair County) Police Chief. He and his wife Connie also operated a restaurant for 5 years in the St. Clair County town of Branchville.
When Montgomery was chosen as Oneonta Fire Chief in the early 1980s, he basically had to restart the department "from the beginning."
||Charles Montgomery with some of the prime hay he grew.
A stickler for detail, training and "doing it right," Montgomery was a hard taskmaster, but under his leadership the Oneonta Department grew into one of the premier departments in the state.
But Montgomery was still not satisfied. When he came to Oneonta, jokers would say, if you were going to have an accident, you better have it in Oneonta or maybe West Blount or Blountsville because there were few trained personnel in other areas of the county and even fewer volunteer fire departments. The ones that existed were struggling with little training and even smaller revenues.
While he concentrated on building Oneonta’s fire and rescue service to the professional, well-respected and recognized organization it is today, he was vital in helping the numerous volunteer fire and rescue squads throughout the county organize, train train train train! and secure additional funding. Blount County now has 23 fire and rescue departments. Much of that help came with his involvement with the countywide Blount County Fire and EMS Association. While he served as the organization’s president more than once, he was always involved in helping other departments.
Montgomery was instrumental in helping Blount County begin 911-enhanced services in 1993 and served several times as the board’s chairman. Blount 911 literally had a baptism by fire coming on line for the first week during the notorious Blizzard of 1993.
Also, while at Oneonta, he instigated the Hazardous Materials Team that works tirelessly throughout the county during emergencies, working as well to achieve funding for that program.
Oh - and in addition to all of this, we can’t forget he also taught courses for several years at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Medic Program and for the State Fire College.
After his "retirement" from the city of Oneonta, Montgomery still continued to mentor young men and women who were becoming fire and rescue medics - always ready to answer a question or just offer a listening ear as he sat comfortably in his rocker at his farm’s side porch.
He also enjoyed sharing his vast knowledge of the Civil War and history in general, and loved anything outdoors, including annual hunting trips.
When interviewed for this magazine a couple of years ago, Montgomery explained then with a laugh, "I’m just a grass farmer."
"Those black Angus cows are just a ‘value added product,’" he said of the grass-fed beef he sold one-on-one to the public.
And the article continued, "And someone looking out over the cattle munching happily on the 65 acres Charles and Connie own and the other 200 nearby that they lease might think it’s as simple as Charles makes it sound.
"But Charles approaches his farming and ranching with the same tenacious and carefully studied actions as he did during his more than half a century of dedication to fire and emergency medical services in the north central Alabama area."
He relied on those at Quality Co-ops, in Oneonta and statewide, for assistance in growing that better grass for his cows.
After describing an intensive program of getting other weeds and thistles out of his pastures, Montgomery explained, "We soil test all our fields. We can either lime or apply whatever we need to get the necessary pH and necessary mineral content for healthy grass. Healthy grass means healthy cows.
"I love to watch the cows grow and mature. And with the cow-calf operation it’s fun because it’s kind of like finding Easter eggs every time you find a new calf!"
Montgomery was also a good neighbor. As this reporter faced those long terrible months of my husband’s ailing health and impending death, he would ALWAYS remind me, "View the glass half full, NOT half empty!"
As his health worsened, Montgomery concentrated more on growing hay, hay so good that several folks with elite horse and alpaca farms wouldn’t feed anything else.
I also helped Montgomery "get started" with laying hens a few years ago and his enthusiasm for those birds led him to buy incubators and even begin selling some of his farm-fresh eggs.
Add Jake and Sugar, his two Great Pyrenees, who helped take care of the predator problem, and a few pot-bellied pigs "more for aggravation than anything else," and Montgomery continued to enjoy his farm until his death. (Connie had retired from her lengthy career as a manager of Blount County Salvation Army a few months before his death.)
Chief Charles was honored by an Honor Guard from Birmingham Fire and Rescue, an Air Force Honor Guard, and firefighters and medics from Oneonta and throughout the state. Oneonta Fire and Rescue members served as pall bearers.
Montgomery’s casket was taken atop an Allgood Fire Department fire truck from Lester Memorial Methodist Church in Oneonta to Oak Hill Cemetery.
His funeral was conducted by his former pastor Bro. Jack Redfearn, and Oneonta Fire Chaplain and Blount County Co-op assistant manager Mel Wade.
Wade brought chuckles from throughout the crowd as he talked about Montgomery’s quick temper and how he would never hesitate to tell anybody exactly what he thought, especially if he thought they weren’t doing their job right! But Wade also mentioned how, once the flare up was over, Montgomery went right on like nothing had happened, ready to be a friend and guide.
That love and respect was evident at the cemetery as the bagpipes were played and tears streamed down the faces of several gray-haired fire retirees, but also from the eyes of several still "wet-behind-the-ears" fire recruits who Chief Charles Montgomery had already begun encouraging.
Montgomery may now be gone from this Earth, but his legacy certainly lives on in the lives of those he trained and those whose lives were saved because of those men and women being thoroughly trained.
We remember Chief Montgomery! The glass IS half full!
Suzy Lowry Geno lives a simple life at Old Field Farm in Blount County. She can be reached through her website at www.suzysfarm.com.