La Feria News

The La Feria Fire Department

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The city of La Feria is celebrating its 100th year anniversary and to commemorate the occasion we are digging deep into our archives each week to bring you images and stories from La Feria’s colorful past.

BiCentennialHistoryCover The following story is a chapter from a manuscript entitled The Bicentennial History of La Feria, Texas written by Eddie Gathings McNail in 1975. Throughout the coming year we’ll be reprinting sections of her research into the history of La Feria as the city celebrates its 100 year anniversary.

In the spring of 1924 the La Feria volunteer Fire Department was organized with Harold Hensley as fire chief.

The first equipment consisted of a string of buckets and a small chemical tank mounted on a two-wheel cart that was pulled by the “fire boys brigade” or hitched to the first car that arrived at the fire station.

There were no fire sirens, whistles or bells to spread the alarm. Usually men with strong voices yelled, “Fire! Fire!”

Sometimes a shotgun was fired to awaken and alert the town people.

This photo originally ran in the Thursday, November 17, 1960 issue of  LA FERIA NEWS, a week after the announcement of the purchase of a fifth fire truck for the Volunteer Fire Deparment of La Feria. The caption read, “Just what we needed - Members of the La Feria Volunteer Fire Department happily accept a $350 check from the American Legion to be used in buying equipment for the new fire truck now on order. Shown left to right are Morris Traylor of Post 439 of the American Legion presenting the check to Fire Chief Curly Davis, center, and C.J. Carter, immediate past Fire Chief who helped inaugurate the project of securing a new fire truck.”

This photo originally ran in the Thursday, November 17, 1960 issue of LA FERIA NEWS, a week after the announcement of the purchase of a fifth fire truck for the Volunteer Fire Deparment of La Feria. The caption read, “Just what we needed – Members of the La Feria Volunteer Fire Department happily accept a $350 check from the American Legion to be used in buying equipment for the new fire truck now on order. Shown left to right are Morris Traylor of Post 439 of the American Legion presenting the check to Fire Chief Curly Davis, center, and C.J. Carter, immediate past Fire Chief who helped inaugurate the project of securing a new fire truck.”

On December 7, 1925, a city ordinance was passed creating the office of fire marshal and A. L. Allen was, appointed.

The city bought a Graham Bros. American La France hook and ladder truck with one thousand feet of hose on March 3, 1926, and the firemen took turns holding the nozzle.

That same year the State Firemen’s Convention was held in Harlingen, and the new truck, with Harold Hensley as driver, was in the parade with the Harlingen equipment. The beautiful ycung lady who was an added attraction to the truck was the daughter of Archie Harwood.

Hensfey and Harwood were boys together and had swum in the Guadalupe River at Gonzales, Texas, in 1900.

The Fire Department tried to keep twenty-five men on call at all times. These men paid dues into the city to insure retirement insurance. After twenty years of service or age 50, a fireman could receive $25.00 per month.

The second fire chief was Lehman Nelson, who later became the world’s first aerial victim.

On Thursday, March 2, 1933, Lehman Nelson of La Feria was flying an airplane for Erin McCall, a San Benito youth, who shot and killed Nelson while he was flying over the San Benito airport McCall shot himself to death a few minutes after he brought the plane to an awkward landing on the field.

Several youths were involved in the plot to seize the airplane and perhaps fly to Yucatan, stopping on the coast of northern Mexico the first night. They were Vernon Bryant, Clois Lawson and Gaylord and Earl Dodson.

Lehman Nelson was dedicated to helping others and to loving his neighbor as himself. He needed no monument of marble or granite to tell of his greatness because he lives on in the hearts of his friends.

The unsung hero was Henry L. Buchman, 33, marshal of the La Feria volunteer Fire Department who died at 6:00 a.m., Thursday, April 7, 1932, from monoxide poisoning.

In 1933, a second fire truck, a Chevrolet with a front pumper, was bought outright.

The third fire truck was purchased in 1948 from Army surplus following World War II. It was equipment bought from the War Department in San Antonio, Texas. This truck was an International with a regular mid-shift pump that was built originally as a fire truck.
On April 29, 1954, the fourth fire truck was purchased new from the Hollon Motor Company in Mercedes. It was a Ford.

The fifth fire truck, a Dodge pumper and truck, was bought on October 27, 1960 at a cost of approximately $6,000.00. The truck was a 500-gallon water carrier with a pump and a 3/4 inch high pressure hose. The truck cost $2,200.90 with the apparatus costing $3,824.00.
On January 28, 1965, an extension of the Fire Chief’s telephone was installed in the Aaron-Cox Mortuary, the point where fire calls are received and where the siren is controlled.

The La Feria Ladies Pumper Team took top honors in the District meeting of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Firemen’s and Fire Marshals’ Association held in San Benito in July, 1972. The team consisted of Karen Schulle, Roxey Maston, Debbie Wolf, Mary Scheopner, Brenda Thomas and Nell Gray. Their picture, as winners, was taken by Capt. E. H. Derr of the McAllen Fire Department.

The Fire Marshal, Douglas Gay, outlined the needs of the department, including airpacks to allow firemen to breathe in smoke-filled areas, protective clothing and equipment for hoses and trucks at a recent meeting (May, 1973). The total cost will be approximately $1,042.05.
The present Fire Chief is Leon Broadway; the Fire Marshal is Gene Catlett.

The efficiency and devotion of the La Feria volunteer Fire Department is well known in La Feria and over the entire Valley.


Do YOU have any photos, books, or stories that might help us piece together La Feria’s storied history? If so please email us or call our office at 956-797-9920 and let us know!

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