Laughter filled city hall Tuesday as the community said farewell to Hopkinsville Fire Chief Freddie Montgomery, who will retire at the end of the month to become fire chief in Clarksville.

Hopkinsville Mayor Carter Hendricks took a few jabs at Montgomery for leaving his hometown, but it was all in jest as the outgoing chief was presented a key to the city and a pair of short-shorts reading "I LOVE HOPTOWN" on the backside.

"We know you have this love for this certain sport — rugby — and we wanted to make sure you had a very special pair of customized rugby shorts just to take with you," the mayor said as Montgomery, his wife, Priscilla, and the crowd laughed. "Every time you play rugby, you get to PR Hoptown — Take that, Clarksville! We're still winning!"

Hendricks then asked the crowd to give Montgomery a standing ovation.

Hopkinsville firefighters said a few words, thanking the chief for his guidance and encouragement over the past five years and for serving the department for the past 25 years.

Montgomery, the city's first African-American fire chief, began at HFD in 1994 at the age of 21, according to New Era archives. At 29, he was promoted as captain, after serving as the department's public information officer. He was sworn in as fire chief in March 2014.

During his five years at the helm, Montgomery, 46, was in charge of the day-to-day oversight of the city's fire and county ambulance services. He was intimately involved in leading Hopkinsville to its best ever ranking of among the top 2% nationally in fire suppression, thereby reducing insurance coverage premiums for personal and commercial property locally, according to a release from the city of Hopkinsville.

He managed the delivery of 2,900 fire and nearly 10,000 ambulance runs each year; helped eliminate a $450,000 budget deficit in EMS by restructuring the EMS Management and EMS Response Model and implementing cost saving ambulance purchases and design measures; and secured Hopkinsville City Council approval to fund updated air packs, a new ladder truck and training center, among a host of other accomplishments, the release stated.

Montgomery was named the 2015 Kentucky League of Cities Employee of the Year and served as second vice president for the Kentucky Fire Chiefs Association.

Hopkinsville City Councilman Wendell Lynch said he's grown to love and respect Chief Montgomery.

"He's has done so much for our community," Lynch said. "And, when I think about where he is in this stage of life, I think about things I taught myself and taught my children: when you set your sights on something, you go after it, and I feel that is what he has done."

Christian County Magistrate Darrell Gustafson said he knows Montgomery will do well in his next assignment.

"He's always ready and he's always nice," Gustafson said, quoting the HFD motto. "There's not a more truthful guy I've ever met. He will go out of his way to be fair to all concerned. We know that you will do well, and we know, most importantly, that this city has been served well for 25 years."

In addition to a city key, HFD firefighters presented Montgomery with the flag he designed for the department and a commemorative plaque.

"This city means a lot to me," Montgomery said. "I am Hopkinsville, and everyone who meets me will know I'm from Hopkinsville until the day I die. I love this city and this community."

He also gave kudos to the Hopkinsville Fire Department and whoever will be named the next chief.

"We are advanced here in Hopkinsville," he said. "Me moving on is not anything other than me showing them that we can do anything. These men and women are head and shoulders above anybody in this field, in this business ... and it's going to be an amazing opportunity to be able to watch Hopkinsville grow from just down the road."

Reach Zirconia Alleyne at 270-887-3243 or zalleyne@kentuckynewera.com.

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