BY Norman Rozeff
1924-26 Under Mayor Joe E. Roberts the city allocates funds for parks, establishes a County health unit, builds a dog pound, and installs street signs. In 1925 bonds are voted to build a city hall, a fire station, and a jail. The solid two story jail building with its barred windows still exists on the railroad side of 523 North Commerce between Adams and Washington Streets.
2/2/25 A special census taken for the purpose shows the city with just under 5,400 people. This indicates a 100% gain in four years. Harlingen therefore becomes eligible for “home rule” and formulates a new city charter. It is adopted 2/24/27, replaced again in 1947, and once more in 1956.
1926 It is June of this year that the fire equipment drivers enter the “paid class” when they are placed on 24 hour duty shifts while the remainder of the department is unpaid volunteers.
The new City Hall and Fire Department building is completed at 202-204 E. Van Buren Street. It is on 7/30/26 that the city offices move into the new city hall. This same year Harlingen hosted the Convention of the State Firemen’s and Fire Marshal’s Association of Texas. It took place in the auditorium of the high school once existing between Tyler and Polk Avenues.
The manual fire siren was initially tested once a week at 9 p. m. until citizen complaints brought an end to this time. It was then conducted at noon once a week. In 1927 a second siren was purchased. It was completely automated and issued a series of nine blasts when activated.
Under Chief Bert Gamble (first tenure 1917 to 12/3/26; second tenure late 1934 until 1/36) fire equipment drivers go on 24 hour shifts and are compensated. The Fire Department plays host to the State Firemen and Fire Marshals’ convention. Gamble commenced his Harlingen residency in 1917, reorganized the volunteer fire department, and was elected chief that year. He had served with fire departments in Itasca in 1903, Denton, 1905, Teague 1907 where he was chief 1909 until 1917. He will become seriously ill, relinquish his position, and die at age 52 in the early 1940s. This lumber and hardware man, who was a Mason and member of the Baptist Church, will leave behind his wife and two sons.
1/1/27 E.C. Bennett succeeds Bert Gamble as elected fire chief and serves until late 1934. He will serve again from 1/36 until 8/36.William Winters is assistant fire chief and maintains the equipment. In this period Bennett purchased a Buick chassis that had been damaged by an upholstery fire. He mounted on its chassis two 60 gallon chemical tanks and small equipment.. This apparatus was dispensed to small fires. Later it was converted into a high-pressure water tank piece of equipment and carbon dioxide extinguishers were added.
1927 With William Winters as assistant fire chief (he began with the department in 1927 as a paid driver and mechanic), a fire fighting sub-station is opened at 210 South F Street. The building at 201 South F Street that will one day house the Family Emergency Center is erected. The main station of a two story brick building is now in Block 71, 202 E. Van Buren. It has an electric siren atop its roof. The fire department has three paid men and 25 unpaid volunteers that includes one chief and two assistant chiefs. The equipment now includes one Type 75 American La France 750 gallon pumper with 1,400′ of 2 ½” hose and a 36′ ladder, another American La France pumper with 350 gallon capacity, 1,200′ of hose and a 36′ ladder, and a Buick chemical truck with two 40 gal. chemical tanks. An additional 1,700 of 2 ½ inch hose is kept in reserve. The second pumper is kept in a lumber yard near the C. P. & L. plant.
1929, The Sanborn Fire Insurance maps provided information about the Harlingen fire situation of this year. While a fire resistant roofing ordnance had been passed there was no set date for shingle roofs to be replaced by non-combustible material. About 20 miles of city streets were paved while the remain- der were simply periodically graded. There was public electric lighting on the streets. This same year sees the city constructing a new substation on South F Street.
1/22/30 The $500,000 bond issue carries 150 to 57. It will allow for the construction of a city abattoir, street paving, an 18 hole golf course, a fire substation and equipment, and improvement to city parks. Under Bennett the fire department took an active role in the organizing of the State Firemen’s Training School which was sponsored by the State Firemen and Fire Marshals’ Association that had been esta- lished at Texas A & M, College Station in 1930. Harlingen firemen are regular attendees and some act as instructors. As a result fire insurance rates in the city are moderated.
This same year saw the organization of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Volunteer Fire Department.