Brownsville firefighters and city officials gathered outside Central Station in downtown Brownsville on Thursday to unveil a new, custom-built firetruck the department has been working to obtain for the past two years.
The engine will serve the entire city, but is stationed in the downtown area on Adams Street and is designed specifically with an independent suspension that will allow personnel to make tighter turns on the neighborhood’s narrow streets.
As Deputy Fire Chief Cesar Pedraza explained, the engine carries more water and more equipment, all in a smaller vehicle. The engine is complete with electric and battery-powered equipment, making it easier and more efficient to deploy when needed.
And leadership designed the engine with the department’s history in mind. The engine is painted bright red — brighter than other engines in town, and has other classic details like nickel plating around the wheel hubs.
On the engine’s front bumper there is a nickel-plate bell, which the department can use in place of a siren for parades and for cyclists, but also features a brand new siren designed in an old style to honor the department’s history in town.
After the ceremony began — complete with bagpipes, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the National Anthem, Chief Jarrett Sheldon read from a letter penned in 1893 by a lieutenant at Fort Brown, several years after the Brownsville Fire Department was founded.
The lieutenant wrote, “Brownsville has enjoyed a blessed immunity from disastrous fires, which is remarkable considering the large number of frame buildings,” adding that the volunteers at the department had done “good work whenever it has been called upon.”
The fire department at the time consisted of two organized fire companies, the first in 1875. Firefighters had a hook and ladder truck. “Propelling power is supplied by 100 feet of rope. The whole outfit is painted in the best style and outfitted with nickel-plate lamp and many braces,” the lieutenant described.
Firefighters would use mules to pull the city’s fleet of 40 water carts, and when the mules weren’t available, firefighters would pull the carts themselves. This, Sheldon said, is where the pushing ceremony conducted on Thursday comes from.
Mayor Trey Mendez spoke at the ceremony, commending the “brave men and women from the fire department and the ambulance service, especially, for all of their work over the last five or six months keeping the city safe.”
Mendez called all the city’s first responders heroes. “If it wasn’t for our firefighters, our police department, our hospital personnel, and all of our medical personnel, I think the casualties in our city would have been a lot higher,” he said.
The truck was made possible through U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funding, specifically through its Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, through which Brownsville is eligible to receive funding, in part, based on its census response.
“If you haven’t done it yet, please remember to fill out the census,” said Mendez.
City Manager Noel Bernal added that the fire engine cost about $750,000 in grant money. The city kept the truck fully within budget, finalizing the initiative with $2 remaining.
Department and city personnel finished the ceremony by placing their hands on the truck, socially distanced both inside and outside the garage.
After Pastor Herman Gutierrez blessed the vehicle, the group pushed the engine into its new spot in the station.