ENNIS — Service above self is the phrase that best describes the code Jodie Harbert Jr. lived his life by.
Harbert worked to help his neighbor as a volunteer firefighter with the Ennis Fire Department, reaching the rank of lieutenant and serving 63 years. In addition to working at the department, he volunteered his time and resources to the community to help anyone who had a need that he could meet.
Harbert passed away Feb. 10 and firefighters from around the county will honor his dedication Thursday at his funeral service.
“He was a mentor to everyone here and he was admired deeply for his dedication to the fire service. Jodie has always been the kindest person, serving God, his family, his friends and all of the citizens of Ennis and the surrounding area,” Ennis Fire Chief David Hopkins said.
“I had a lot of paid experience when I came here as chief in 1986, but I guess you can say that you learn a lot of things from somebody that has as many years in as he did,” Hopkins said. “He was the inspiration for the people who volunteer their services. They get up from a warm bed to go out into a cold night to help a neighbor. He embodied that tenfold.”
Representatives from about 100 emergency service organizations will attend Harbert’s funeral service, with Hopkins noting that those agencies’ participation represents the heartfelt respect and sincere admiration of his peers.
The Ennis Fire Department will honor Harbert by posting honor guards starting Wednesday night by his casket until the time of the funeral Thursday. At the funeral there will be a full honor guard, an honor procession, bagpipes and his casket will be carried by fire truck to the cemetery. A helicopter flyover will provide a final salute to his service.
Kenny Ray Isom has served with the Ennis Fire Department as volunteer firefighter for the past 41 years and worked alongside Harbert as a brother and a friend. Isom said Harbert’s service wasn’t just limited to Ennis but extended to the whole county.
“The main thing that I remember is with the many departments you never have enough people available for the situation, especially with the smaller departments or rural departments. But you knew that at 3 a.m. and you were going to a fire that probably by the time you got there in the fire truck Jodie was already there and had sized up the situation. He already knew where the nearest hydrant was and was ready to do whatever else that was necessary to make us more productive,” Isom said.
“I think the magical thing is that many guys might do it for 10 or 20 years but can’t continue to do it their whole life. He never tired of it even though he could not do as much later on,” Isom said. “When we went to the fire he operated the pump or he blocked off an intersection for us or he would connect the hose to the hydrant. By doing that he freed up another firefighter to do other tasks, even though he might not have been 100 percent physically in the later years.”
Harbert was born March 12, 1925, in Denison, Texas, to Jodie Sr. and Julia Mayes. His family later moved to Ennis. Upon graduating from high school he attended Prairie View A&M University and then returned back home to Ennis, where he began working at Ennis Business Forms as well as volunteering with the fire department starting in 1946. After retiring from Ennis Business Forms after 44 years he still remained an active firefighter with the department.
When he reached 50 years of service in 1996, Harbert received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Ennis Fire Department and, in 2008, he was named Firefighter of the Year by the North Texas Firefighters Association. He was also nominated that same year for state Firefighter of the Year by the department to the State Firemen and Fire Marshals Association of Texas.
Red Oak Fire Chief Eric Thompson grew up in Ennis and served with the Ennis Fire Department for six years. He remembers Harbert while growing up but said he really got the chance to know him better when he joined on as a volunteer in high school.
“Jodie was a very personable guy who accepted everybody. He was always in a good mood and helped others. He had a passion for the fire service and the Ennis Fire Department. Personally, he helped in my young years in volunteering by showing me the basics of firefighting,” Thompson said. “Jodie was known particularly for his pumping skills. He could pump the fire truck better than anyone that I knew. He actually is the one that taught he how to pump a fire truck when I was 18 years old and still in high school.
“If there was a fire in Ennis or around Ennis you could expect Jodie. He was always there to help. Whenever he got on into his later years and couldn’t physically do the work he would still come to all the fires and still provide any support service that he could,” Thompson said. “He was always dependable and was always there, not only on the fire scene but at community events. If the fire department was there, you could expect to see Jodie.”
So that all Ennis firefighters can attend Harbert’s funeral service, the Waxahachie Fire Department is providing an engine and the Red Oak Fire Department is providing an engine and six firefighters to cover the city of Ennis during that time.
Waxahachie Fire Chief David Hudgins said Harbert was a professional in his firefighting abilities and was an all-around good person whose service to the community will be missed.
“You know a volunteer gives up his time and they are not paid for what they do. For him to give his time to that department for that many years, he just had to be an outstanding gentleman,” Hudgins said.
Jan Wilkinson, who is a firefighter with Garrett Rural, said Harbert was not only an excellent firefighter but someone who gave up his time to make his community a better place to live.
“He was somebody that was always there and was a very community-oriented person. He would help anyone. He mowed lawns for his friends, he worked at the church and at the cemetery. There was not anyone that he would not help. Jodie was a hardworking man,” Wilkinson said. “As far as being a volunteer firefighter, he dedicated his life to that, even though he never made a dime off of it.”
During the day when a call would come in to Garrett Rural, it was uncertain who would show up to answer the dispatch. Even though Harbert was not a member of Garrett Rural Fire Department, many times he would beat her to the station and have the truck ready to go. Wilkinson recalls how, more than once, it would just be her and Harbert on the call until someone else arrived.
Palmer Fire Chief Ricky McElhaney said Harbert was a good man and friendly person – and willing to help anyone with whatever needed to be done. Several times during a call he would come up and relieve firefighters up on the trucks, he said.
Harbert was a good member of the Ellis County firefighter community and will be missed, Ovilla Fire Chief Donnie Pickard said, saying Harbert taught him to be a friend to everyone. Their friendship is something he valued, he said.
Visitation is from 6-8 p.m. today at Bethlehem Church, located at 606 Loggins St. in Ennis. The funeral will be held Thursday at Tabernacle Church at 1200 County Club Road in Ennis, beginning at 11 a.m. Interment will follow at Carver Memorial Park, which is located just east of Interstate 45 on Malloy Bridge Road in Ferris. The community, fire departments and emergency service organizations are invited to attend.
Preceded in death by his wife Edwinna in 2000, Harbert is survived by son Jodie Harbert III and daughter-in-law Denise Harbert of Flower Mound, along with many friends and fellow firefighters.
In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations in Harbert’s name be made to the Texas Line of Duty Death Response Team. For more information, go to www.texasfallenhero.org or call director Wendy Norris at 832-647-6770 or e-mail email@example.com.
Contact Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org or 469-517-1458.