Soon after receiving the training he needed to work for the Seymour Fire Department, Jeff Montgomery found himself applying it.
One night after finishing dinner, the bells went off inside Station 1 on East Street. There was a fire at a home on Stanley Street.
He and Stan Taskey, who were hired on the same day in 1984, were among the firefighters who responded.
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“We realized right then and there how tough it was going to be,” Montgomery said. “It was hot, for one thing, and then you go from sitting around relaxed to 90 mph. Back when I started, we rode the back of the truck, so we jumped on the back of the truck and held on until you got there.”
After battling the blaze, Montgomery realized how everything changes in a matter of minutes.
“By the time we got back here, we were both exhausted,” he said of himself and Taskey. “I remember we cleaned the trucks up and stuff, and we just talked about how strenuous it was, thinking, ‘This is the real deal.’”
That was just the start of what would turn into a 35-year career of responding to fires, doing extrications and going on medical runs.
On Sunday, Montgomery, 59, worked his final 24-hour shift. Fellow firefighters and family members joined him for part of the day to celebrate his long career of serving the city.
Fire Chief Brad Lucas said with Montgomery serving 27 years as a battalion chief, that many years of leadership will be difficult to replace.
“Jeff has an uncanny knack of knowing how things work mechanically,” Lucas said. “Not only are those skills useful around the stations when something isn’t working properly, but especially on an emergency scene when trying to diagnose an issue or investigating for a fire’s origin.”
Lucas said Montgomery’s greatest attribute as a leader was the trust and loyalty the firefighters who served under him had in him.
“That type of leadership is not taught. It is earned by the way he treats other people,” Lucas said.
Montgomery will be missed at the department, Lucas said.
“I certainly wish him the best in his retirement, and I speak for the department and the city in thanking him for his many years of service,” Lucas said.
Giving it a try
Montgomery was born and raised in the city and graduated from Seymour High School in 1978.
After going to college for a year, he returned to Seymour and wound up working a few different jobs until his brother told him the Seymour Fire Department was hiring.
Montgomery applied, went through an agility test and was one of two hired. He said between 30 and 40 people participated in the tryout.
“I didn’t really even know anything about it, went to the tryout and got hired,” he said. “I knew a couple of guys that worked here. I didn’t really have any relatives or anything that worked here. I had been married just three years. We didn’t have any kids. My wife was a little bit hesitant on me being gone 24 hours every third day. Anyway, we decided it was doable.”
Montgomery then was trained by the older, experienced firefighters. He learned about the equipment on the firetrucks and also had to learn the city streets.
“They taught you a lot because you had their back and you had to work as a team,” he said. “It’s still like that.”
Each year since then, Montgomery and the other firefighters have had to do annual training to ensure they are in good shape to do the job.
One of the memorable fires he responded to was at the former Save-A-Lot store on Ewing Street.
Montgomery said it burned the store and into the roof of a nearby church.
“Back then, there were only eight people on a shift, so we had five up here (at Station 1) and three down at Station 2. We only had two stations then,” he said. “Of course, we had a big call-in, and all of the volunteers, we called all of them in, too.”
Then there was the Centennial Hotel fire on Christmas morning in 1998. Montgomery was the officer in charge. By that time, he had been a battalion chief for six years, so he was in charge of the shift.
“I’d say that’s the biggest fire I’ve ever responded to,” Montgomery said. “We pretty much had everybody called in for that.”
As he pulled up to the scene of the hotel at Tipton Street and Jeffersonville Avenue, Montgomery, another firefighter and a police officer saw a man jump out of a window. They then pulled him away from the building.
“My only fear, I didn’t want to get anybody hurt that was working under me,” Montgomery said. “Three of my guys went into the building, so it was kind of a scary situation until they got out.”
He said firefighters spent a lot of time fighting the fire.
“Of course, my kids were waiting for Dad to get home to open Christmas gifts,” he said. “I didn’t come home for quite a long time.”
Along with responding to fires in the city, Seymour firefighters also have been called to do extrications after wrecks.
Right before Montgomery was hired, he said the Indiana State Police purchased Jaws of Life, and the city agreed to help with extrications on Interstate 65 in Jackson County.
“I can recall three times stepping through the doors and within a couple minutes, we’re out on the interstate cutting somebody out of a vehicle,” Montgomery said. “You’re going from coming in to maybe get a cup of coffee to being out on the interstate.”
Then in the 1990s, all of the firefighters were required to go through emergency medical services training so they could respond to medical calls.
Ever since, the department has had training officers to ensure all firefighters go through their monthly EMS training. That’s usually led by personnel with Jackson County Emergency Medical Services.
“A lot of the guys we’ve hired in the past came from the ambulance service,” Montgomery said.
That includes his son, Matt Montgomery, who was a paramedic with Jackson County EMS before becoming a firefighter in 2014.
While the two haven’t worked together much with the fire department, they both do appliance service and repair as a side business. Jeff has operated Montgomery Appliance Service for more than 30 years, and Matt’s business is Montgomery Appliance Repair. Jeff’s wife, Marcia Montgomery, helps with the business.
In retirement, Jeff said the plan is to turn everything over to Matt and just work for him part time. He also said he wants to take more trips to Lake Cumberland to fish and spend more time with his family, which also includes two daughters and three grandsons.
His oldest daughter, Lauren Walter, has three boys.
“Every time I see them, they’ve got a fire department shirt on, so they are all about that,” Jeff said, smiling.
Reflecting on a career
Jeff spent all but four years of his career at Station 1, and he said he has a lot of good memories working alongside fellow firefighters.
“The thing about the fire department, you spend a third of your life here, so you work with the same guys pretty much every shift. It is a big brotherhood thing,” he said. “I’ll probably miss that part of it. There’s not a guy here I couldn’t call in the middle of the night and they would come help.”
He also said he has been glad to serve his hometown.
“I always tell (friends), ‘We’re like an insurance company. You hate to pay the premium, but you’re glad you have it when the time comes you need it.’ That’s kind of the way I see it,” Montgomery said. “If we’re out on that truck, somebody’s in trouble. The satisfaction of going and helping them, that’s a good feeling.”
Montgomery said it may take time for him to adjust to not having to go to the fire station every three days.
“I’m sure I’ll miss coming in. Surely, they’ll let me back in here,” he joked about returning to visit with firefighters.
As his firefighting career has come to an end, Montgomery said he is fortunate for the support from his family throughout the years. Matt wound up becoming a firefighter, and Lauren and her sister, Kristen Montgomery, both are nurse practitioners in the emergency room at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.
“All three of my kids were born after I started working here, so they’ve been around the fire department, and they knew you’re here every third day, you work Christmas, the holidays, whatever. It must have appealed to them, too,” he said, smiling. “I’ve had really good support through my wife especially and my kids.”
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Name: Jeff Montgomery
Education: Seymour High School (1978)
Occupation: Recently retired after 35 years with the Seymour Fire Department
Family: Wife, Marcia Montgomery; son, Matt (Lindsey) Montgomery; daughters, Lauren (Lawrence) Walter and Kristen Montgomery; grandsons, Owen Walter, Evan Walter and Wes Walter