Saturday, November 17, 2018
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20181031 Edinburg Fire Dept Museum KO DSC 0168“This picture gives me chills every time I look at it,” said Edinburg Fire Department Fire Inspector Jaime Hernandez, pointing to a picture on the wall of the Edinburg Volunteer Fire Department Museum. I agreed. The picture showed a school bus floating upside down in a caliche pit filled with water.

September 21, 1989 was a day like no other in the history of Mission and the Rio Grande Valley. A Mission Consolidated Independent School District school bus had just picked up its last student and was heading west on the Mile 5 Line when the brakes on a Dr. Pepper truck traveling north on Bryan Road failed.

The fully-loaded beverage truck struck the bus sending it in a northeast direction into an abandoned caliche pit filled with 12 feet of murky water. The bus landed upside down. Although fire departments such as Edinburg joined Mission and other rescue units from all over the Valley, rescue efforts were hampered by the fact the pit was 30 feet deep on the sides before rescuers reached the water. In all, 21 students died and 60 were injured while trying to escape the submerged bus.

For those who lived through the tragic day such as my daughter, Miranda, who lost friends and classmates, the day remains in their memory as vividly as the news of the Kennedy assassination does in the minds of Winter Texans who lived through it. Hernandez is right. That picture does evoke chills.

20181031 Edinburg Fire Dept Museum KO DSC 0169The museum also features pictures of the aftermath of the 1988 collapse of a roof on the Amigos store in Brownsville after heavy rains. Firefighters from Edinburg joined firefighters from all over the Rio Grande Valley in the search for people trapped under the rubble.
Other pictures show the rescue of a car stuck in a canal near McColl Road and other similar tragedies the department has faced.

One wall is dedicated to the brave firemen involved in the 911 tragedy in New York City.

The museum is small but filled with scrapbooks and photos of events involving the Edinburg Fire Department. Events through the years have been well documented.

On the lighter side, a framed post on one wall describes the modern new equipment purchased for the Edinburg Fire Department. It included a 1930 Chevrolet hose truck and a 1938 Ford Chassis pumper truck capable of pumping 150 gallons of water at a time. The fire department opened in 1926 and its coverage area included not only Edinburg but much of the northwestern portion of the county, including some 200 square miles.

The first fire department was all volunteer and although there are 40 paid employees now, about half of the force is still made up of volunteers – 47 of them. The walls feature pictures of the annual Pumper Races held in March where all firemen, paid and volunteer get together to practice attaching the hose from the trucks to the fire hydrants. The team that can do it the fastest wins.

Hernandez pointed out pictures and scrapbooks for the Ladies Auxiliary, which he said cooked for displaced families during floods and offered emergency care for children when their parents were unable to care for them after an accident or fire.

20181031 Edinburg Fire Dept Museum KO DSC 0175A table in the center of the room held a variety of old firefighting equipment, including two of the heavy, old-style tanks and masks firemen used to have to carry into burning buildings. A nearby shelf had two red glass bottles that resembled grenades. Hernandez said they were filled with firefighting chemicals and thrown into burning buildings to help put out the fire from inside.

On one wall, there was a display case featuring antique fire trucks and cars children would have played with years ago.

Next to the case was a large, remote-control fire truck driven by Sparky, the firefighting dogs. Sparky was very popular in teaching fire prevention to children in the 1980s. Freddy the Firetruck was nearby. In the background were boats used to teach boat safety to children at the Boys and Girl Club.

Today, these props have been replaced by live clown presentations when teaching fire safety. Hernandez said although fire prevention training in schools is usually in October, the clowns are so popular, the classes are held September through December to accommodate all the requests.

The Edinburg Volunteer Fire Department Museum is popular among Winter Texans who have fire department or rescue backgrounds, but it is open only by request. Hernandez recommended that no more than 10 persons sign up to come at one time because of the small size of the building. Call 956-383-7691 to make arrangements for a tour. The museum is located at 211 McIntyre, west of the courthouse in Edinburg.

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