Dalmatians and the Fire Service
If I said, " look
at the fire dog" you would expect to see a beautiful black and white
Dalmatian. This breed is universally excepted as the firedog. But was it really
the firedog? Why this particular breed? Why even have dogs at all?
The Dalmatian was
first used in England, as a coach dog. Wealthy aristocrats sought out the
unusual looking spotted dog. These eye catching canines lent an air of
superiority to the coaches of the wealthy as they traveled through villages.
Locals would stop what they were doing and point at the sight of this remarkable
looking spotted hound. Dogs were important members of any stable that housed
teams of pulling horses. A stable dog has a calming influence on horses and
makes them feel comfortable in their stalls. They would reside right under the
horses in the stalls. Many dogs were known to have litters right in the stalls
with no danger of the horses stepping on their tiny pups.
The use of canines as
work animals in this era was wide spread. Consequently every household owned
several dogs. They were used to pull small wagons containing a wide variety of
materials such as wood, milk or anything else a household might need. These dogs
were allowed to roam free whenever they were not being used as work animals.
These free roaming dogs would dash out at passing teams of horses. They would
nip at the legs of the horses and generally harass the equines. In addition to
keeping the horses calm in the stable, the coach dog also had to fend off these
marauding dogs whenever the coach traveled over the road. It was a very common
sight to see the coach dog running out in front of the horses.
took tremendous pride in their companies. They would turn out and parade through
the city at almost any occasion. Great care was taken in making your rig more
fancy than the next one. Polished brass brilliant paint jobs and gleaming
leather were always maintained. It was only natural that when word of this
remarkable spotted dog was heard, companies had to have one. Dalmatians began
appearing with fire companies and they had the expected impact. People pointed
and gawked. They were that extra piece of fancywork that every Jake wanted on
his rig. The Dalmatian did the job proudly but they had some drawbacks. They
were hard to get and many of them were deaf. The American fire service was well
served by this noble breed but the fact is that the mixed breed mutt was the
A neighborhood stray
of a mixed breed or a pup from some unwanted litter was the real American
firedog. These dogs took to the fire companies like the men themselves. They
kept the horses comfortable and ran ahead of them on every call. Fiercely loyal,
they knew every member of the company. The dog immediately challenged any
non-member who entered the firehouse. At fire scenes these salty looking mutts
would take up a position on the rig and challenge any non-member who came near.
I have seen some very old film footage of a firedog working. At the sound of the
box the dog would get in front of the horses. Like a sheep dog he would bark at
the team until they were in there harness hooked up to the rig. He would then
stand facing them barking at one and then the other. He would run out the door,
look down the street and then return to the team and bark some more. It actually
looks like he is giving them directions. When the men were all turned out and
aboard the apparatus the horses would start out the door with the firedog
running proudly out in front.
Old photographs of
horse drawn companies always have something in common. The members in the photo
are beaming with pride. If you look at the driverís area of the rig you will
usually see a mixed breed mutt sitting with that same sense of pride. There is
absolutely no question that this canine is a bonafide member of the company.
that a pedigreed Dalmatian is the dog most associated with Firefighting. A breed
that was chosen by the aristocracy to display wealth and privilege, but it was
the mixed breed mutt that really did the job. Like the actual Jakes that do the
job, we have no pedigreed we come in all mixed nationalities, shapes, colors and
sizes but we continue to answer the call.