Interview with Charles Montgomery, November 2, 2016

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History
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00:00:00 - Montgomery's background with the fire department

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Partial Transcript: --to get some detailed descriptions from a different perspective of what actually happened on that day.

Segment Synopsis: Charles Montgomery is introduced. He explains his background with the Bardstown Fire Department, beginning as a volunteer firefighter. He describes the volunteer firefighter program, and the differences in practices between various fire stations.

Keywords: Assistant chief; Attitudes; Bardstown Fire Department; Careers; Firefighters; Funding; Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc.; Heaven Hill Distillery; Recruits; Regulations; Training; Wages

Subjects: Bardstown (Ky.); Fire departments.; Fire fighters.; Fire stations; Volunteer fire departments; Volunteer fire fighters

00:06:04 - Heaven Hill fire of November 7, 1996

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Partial Transcript: Uh, when the Heaven Hill fire s--uh when it happened there was only three paid staff people that worked Monday through Friday eight to four.

Segment Synopsis: Montgomery explains who was on-duty at the fire station on the day of the fire at Heaven Hill Distillery (November 7, 1996). He talks about how he learned of the fire, leaving his other job to get to the fire, and his actions when he arrived on the scene.

Keywords: Bottling houses; Chief; Containment; Crews; Electrical fires; Firefighters; Firetrucks; Full-time staff; Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc.; Heaven Hill Distillery; Hydrants; Pagers; Protection; Supply hoses; Trucks; Volunteers; Warehouse I; Warehouse J; Warehouses

Subjects: Distilleries--Kentucky; Fire departments.; Fire fighters.; Fire stations; Fires.; Volunteer fire departments; Volunteer fire fighters

00:14:37 - How the alcohol affected the fire

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Partial Transcript: How, how conscious at this point are you, I mean everybody, you know, we all know Bardstown, bourbon.

Segment Synopsis: Montgomery discusses how the presence of the bourbon affected the ability to contain the fire. He talks about seeing the "river of fire" caused by the bourbon running down the hill out of the warehouse. He talks about the difficulty of protecting the other nearby warehouses from the fire.

Keywords: "River of fire"; Alcohol; Bardstown (Ky.); Barrels; Bourbon whiskey; Containment; Control; Explosions; Firefighters; Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc.; Heaven Hill Distillery; Leaks; Overwhelming; Protection; Warehouse I; Warehouse K; Warehouse L; Warehouses

Subjects: Chemicals--Fires and fire prevention; Distilleries--Kentucky; Fire fighters.; Fires.

00:18:01 - Weather conditions and other factors that impacted the fire

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Partial Transcript: How did you get more water?

Segment Synopsis: Montgomery discusses how the wind from the storms that were occurring helped to spread the fire. He talks about how their success in fighting the fire was hampered by the lack of access to a water source. He talks about how the warehouses being made of wood affected the fire.

Keywords: Firefighters; Firetrucks; Fuel source; Heat; Hoses; Hydrants; Ponds; Storm fronts; Water supply; Weather conditions; Wind; Wood

Subjects: Distilleries--Kentucky; Fire fighters.; Fires.

00:22:25 - Strategies for fighting the fire

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Partial Transcript: Is there--you know, when you talk about the hill and the wind, um, it's a fairly rural area, right?

Segment Synopsis: Montgomery talks about their strategies for fighting the fire, including use of an aerial firefighting apparatus, and assistance from other nearby fire stations. He talks about the chain of command during the fire. He describes what he was experiencing through his various senses at the time, and whether he was personally afraid. He talks about how the heat was so intense that much of their equipment was damaged. He talks about ensuring that Heaven Hill's yeast was preserved.

Keywords: Afraid; Aid; Bottling houses; Collapse; Command structure; Communication; Equipment; Fear; Firefighters; Gear; Heat; Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc.; Heaven Hill Distillery; Hills; Injuries; Leadership; Maintenance workers; Nauseating; Okolona (Ky.); Personnel; Quints; Resources; Roar; Rural areas; Safety; Senses; Shepherdsville (Ky.); Smells; Sounds; Time frame; Warehouse J; Warehouses; Water supply; Wind; Worried; Yeast

Subjects: Distilleries--Kentucky; Fire departments.; Fire fighters.; Fires.; Volunteer fire fighters

00:33:51 - Lessons learned from the Heaven Hill fire

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Partial Transcript: Um, okay, so as we--you know, as you sort of took me through this story I'm thinking, you know I'm drawing this little line in my head where--of all these factors that you were talking about that were working against you.

Segment Synopsis: Montgomery talks more about how factors like the weather conditions and water resources affected their ability to fight the fire. He talks about how the fire department has learned to more successfully combat fires since that day, including a pre-planning system, requiring more sprinkler systems, and the use of containment systems to prevent the spilled alcohol from spreading the fire further.

Keywords: "River of fire"; Alcohol; Bardstown Fire Department; Barrels; Construction; Containment berms; Facilities; Fire prevention; Firefighters; Firetrucks; Hoses; Issues; Logistics; Mud; Pre-planning; Roads; Roof; Sprinkler systems; Warehouse J; Weather conditions

Subjects: Bardstown (Ky.); Distilleries--Kentucky; Fire departments.; Fire fighters.; Fire stations; Fires.

00:40:25 - Logistics of fighting the fire

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Partial Transcript: What--did anybody come to any conclusions, I actually haven't seen that anywhere in terms of what caused the fire?

Segment Synopsis: Montgomery says that the cause of the fire is still undetermined because of the extent of the damage caused by the fire. He talks about remaining on fire watch until the next day because the fire continued to burn after being contained. He says that the fire department did not use the situation to argue for increased funding or personnel for the fire department, and only equipment that had been damaged was replaced.

Keywords: Alcohol; Assistance; Catastrophes; Causes; Changes; Containment; Damage; Energy; Equipment; Fire watch; Firefighters; Full-time staff; Heat; Infrastructure; Melting; Shifts

Subjects: Fire departments.; Fire fighters.; Fire stations; Fires.; Volunteer fire departments; Volunteer fire fighters

00:47:12 - The many distilleries in the Bardstown Fire Department's service area

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Partial Transcript: Well, um, I think, you know, it worked out incredibly well.

Segment Synopsis: Montgomery talks about how the Bardstown community has reacted since the fire. He talks about the increasing number of distilleries within the Bardstown Fire Department's service area.

Keywords: Bardstown Bourbon Company; Barton Distillery; City of Bardstown; Community; Fatalities; Firefighters; Four Roses Distillery; Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc.; Heaven Hill Distillery; Jim Beam Distillery; Luxco; Thanks; Warehouses; Willett Distillery

Subjects: Bardstown (Ky.); Distilleries--Kentucky; Fire departments.; Fire fighters.; Fire stations

00:50:51 - Differences in firefighting today

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Partial Transcript: So, you know, you're in a leadership position now, uh, here, uh, right?

Segment Synopsis: Montgomery discusses the changes that have occurred in fire departments and firefighting techniques between the time of the Heaven Hill fire and today. He talks more about lessons they learned from the Heaven Hill fire. He talks about why many distillery warehouses have still not been retrofitted with sprinkler systems. The interview is concluded.

Keywords: Alcohol; Changes; Containment; Criticisms; Differences; Firefighters; Foam; Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc.; Heaven Hill Distillery; Hydrants; Jim Beam Distillery; Lessons; Pre-planning; Regulations; Retrofitting; Sprinkler systems; Sprinklers; Warehouses; Water sources; Wild Turkey Distillery

Subjects: Distilleries--Kentucky; Fire departments.; Fire fighters.; Fire stations; Fires.; Volunteer fire departments; Volunteer fire fighters