A History of Fire Dogs
This year on October 1st, we honor fire pups throughout the country. Dalmatians are iconic figures in fire stations. This centuries-long tradition has helped shape the public’s view of the fire department, but how did it start?
Once They Were Carriage Dogs
Back in the 1700s, the role of the fire dog was very different. The dogs would run alongside the fire carriages to help soothe the horses. Fire stations were not the only ones to take advantage of this trick, either.
Carriage drivers would also have dogs run on each side of their passenger carriages to calm the horses and provide private security. The dogs would protect whatever was in the carriage, be it passengers or goods.
The Power of the Dalmatian
English aristocrats chose Dalmatians to help guard their carriages for several reasons. For one thing, the white coats with black spots made them easy to recognize. Having a Dalmatian beside your coach was a status symbol.
The Dalmatian was also the choice at the firehouses because of their loyalty, endurance, and loud barking. When the fire bell would go off, the Dalmatian fire dogs would run out and bark to clear the way for the trucks. When the firefighters ran into buildings, the dogs stayed with the horses, soothing them and keeping thieves at bay.
The Iconic New York City Fire Dog
Dalmatians began working as fire dogs for the New York City Fire Department (NYFD) in the 1870s. The breed was the logical choice, given their history of racing alongside carriages.
At this time, motorized vehicles were starting to hit the streets, so carriage dogs needed a new job. They found one in the New York City Fire Department. Dalmatians became the symbol of the NYFD.
The Westminster Dog Show added a category for Fire Department Dalmatians in 1910. The first winner was Dalmatian Mike from Engine Company 8 on 51st Street in New York. This custom continued for the next 30 years before being abandoned.
The Modern Fire Dog
Of course, today, fire dogs can be any breed, although firefighters still embrace the iconic Dalmatian. For example, after the 9/11 attacks, FDNY Ladder 20, who lost seven people that day, received a Dalmatian puppy appropriately named Twenty.
The dog helped the surviving firefighters as they grieved their fallen brethren. Twenty served beside the firefighters of Ladder 20 for 15 years. Firehouse Dalmatians have been part of the culture of NYC for over 100 years.
Today, modern fire dogs still have an essential role to play. Their job is one of emotional support, as they serve as companions for firefighters all over the country.
Celebrate National Fire Dog day on October 1st by donating pet wellness products to your local firehouse.