Charles Webster Rutherford was Atmore's fire chief for 43 years

Published 11:37 am Wednesday, October 18, 2006

By Staff
Senior Living
(This week The Atmore Advance spotlights Charles Webster Rutherford, who turned 74 this year.)
Q: When and where were you born?
A: I was born in Monroe County on Feb. 29, 1932.
Q: Who were your parents?
A: Mattie Lou and Curry Rutherford.
I'm not sure how long they were married, but it seemed like a lifetime.
Q: Do you have any brothers or sisters?
A: There's Opal, Eugene and Bill. They are all deceased. Then there's Clarence, Dale, and Glenda.
Clarence lives in Mississippi and the rest of them live around here.
Q: Where did you attend high school and/or college?
A: I started school at the old Rachel Patterson School, the one that was torn down.
Then I went to Wallace a couple of years.
After I left Wallace, I came back to Atmore High School.
When I was in the 10th grade I had to quit because my father got sick and there was so many kids that my mother couldn't work. I had to support the family.
After I became the fire chief in Atmore I attended Fire College in Tuscaloosa and Bomb School in Mobile and Birmingham.
Q: How did your family travel when you were younger?
A: We had a Model A Ford.
Q: Do you remember the first vehicle you bought?
A: A 1941 Chevrolet touring car. I bought it from Ben Haley's father for about $100.
Q: What jobs have you held?
A: Well, my first job was helping my father dip turpentine. We dipped it for a company located in Wallace. My father would tell my mother where he was going to be that day so after school I could go and help him.
Then, I went to work for Mr. Stallworth. He was the county commissioner at the time. I worked on his farm for about four years.
Then, I went to Tampa and worked at the Tru-Ade Bottling Company for about a year.
I moved back to Atmore and worked for Mr. Stallworth for another year.
Then, in 1954, I went to work for the city. Mr. H.H. Dees was the mayor at the time. I worked in the garage and was a fireman for about two years.
That's when I was appointed fire chief and I was the fire chief for 43 years.
They built a little apartment next to the fire station and that's where I lived for a long time.
When I started as fire chief there was only one '47 model pumper and when I retired we had three pumpers, two tankers, and 12 paid fireman.
The Alabama State Foresters Division loaned us the trucks to make the tankers.
There was a lot of stuff that happened while I was chief. I worked under six different mayors; Mr. Dees, Mr. Davis, Mrs. McKenzie, Mr. Burns, Mr. Owens, and Mr. Shell. Mr. Shell and I really didn't see eye-to-eye.
It was required to attend Fire College and Bomb School. I am certified in Arson Investigation and certified to disarm homemade bombs.
There was a horrible wreck one time where a semi-truck ran slap over a car and the woman was stuck inside. The car was crushed so bad that we couldn't open the door to get her out, so we hooked up a truck to each end of the car and pulled it apart enough that the door would come open.
So, after that incident, I went to the citizens of Atmore and told them how we needed a Jaws of Life and they donated enough money to buy one. They were about $10,000 at that time.
Then three girls fell in a gravel pit that was between Martinville and Poarch and drowned. We had to wait two hours for the Rescue Squad to get there from Brewton. So, I asked Jerry Gehman, who used to run the radio station, to advertise on the radio that we needed some diving equipment. Again, the general public donated enough money to buy three complete diving suits and equipment.
I may run for city councilman when the next city elections comes around. A lot of people have told me that I should, so it's a possibility.
Q: Did you ever marry?
A: I've been married three times and divorced twice. I've been married to Debbie (Maddox) Rutherford for 26 years.
Q: Do you have any children or grandchildren?
A: I have two children by my first wife. Wayne lives in Poarch and Teresa lives in Martinville.
Debbie and I have one daughter, Kristina who lives in Atmore.
I have four grandchildren, Chris, Brandy, Elijah, and Noah. Elijah and Noah are twins.
I also have three great grandchildren, Melea, Rowdy, and Wyatt.
Q: Where do you attend church?
A: I've been a member of Brooks Memorial for about 10 years.
I remember when I was still at home and my mother would carry us to church every Sunday morning.
Q: What keeps you busy these days?
A: Honeydews, yard work, my two dogs, anything that the kids want me to do I do it and when I have time I like to go fishing.
Q: Have you traveled much?
A: Not a whole lot. I went to Wisconsin one time and drove a fire truck back. Now that was an interesting trip.
I went the day after a snow storm had hit Chicago. When I was coming back, the snow on the sides of the roads where they had plowed it out of the street was taller than the fire truck.
I just really don't have the time or patience to travel.
Q: What is your favorite television show?
A: The hunting and fishing shows on Saturday mornings. I get up every Saturday morning at about 5 a.m. to watch them.
I really couldn't concentrate on hunting and fishing while I lived in the apartment next to the fire station. The reason they built it was so the fire chief could be there at all times.
Q: What advice can you give on staying healthy?
A: Well, I'm not a smoker, but I chewed tobacco and it's just as bad so I say don't smoke, don't chew tobacco, stay active, and get married to a good woman like I did.
(If you would like to recommend a senior to be spotlighted please contact Stacie Cofield at 368-2123 or e-mail her at

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