Have you ever heard of a Dalmatian breed being referred to as a "Fire Dog?" Today, Dalmatians are often seen as mascots to firehouses, and there's a reason why they are often called "Fire Dogs" and associated with the fire service.
Dalmatians as Firedogs: Early Days
Dalmatians have been an integral part of firehouse teams for hundreds of years, making life easier for firefighters.
Going back to the mid-1700s, these dogs were known as "coach dogs." Carriage owners quickly came to realize that they had a calming effect on the horses that pulled the carriages. It helped them to avoid distractions and other disturbances that might spook the horses and cause them to bolt. This benefited fire teams, but also those who operated carriages for business purposes, as well as the wealthy who owned their own transport.
During the early days of brewing, Dalmatians were also used to guard horses and wagons while the driver went inside for deliveries. With their light colored bodies and distinctive markings, the dogs were visible during twilight and kept up with the wagons. (Budweiser still uses Dalmatians during their Clydesdale wagon shows and can sometimes be spotted in their commercials)
This practice was also adopted by the fire service for the same advantages. Keeping horses calm while on the road or waiting outside of establishments where the team were tackling a fire. They also made for excellent guard dogs, preventing others from stealing from the fire trucks while the team was handling a fire.
When a fire alarm sounded, the Dalmatian would often also rush out into the street, making a racket to signal that the firefighters' vehicle would shortly be bursting forth from the firehouse.
In addition to calming horses, Dalmatians also showed long-lasting endurance and fierce loyalty. Their bark was also noted to be very loud, which helped fire brigades who had not yet developed sirens as a way of clearing a path. They would lead the way for horses, clearing the path of any obstructions.
The Fire Department of New York was one fire service that made a significant impact in terms of the reputation that Dalmatians have as fire dogs. FDNY first started using Dalmatians as early as around 1870, clearing a path for the horses that drew the fire equipment.
Across the pond in England, the Westminster Dog Show started a new category in around 1910, for fire dogs. The Fire Department Dalmatians category would run for around 30 years, and its first champion was an NYFD Dalmatian called Mike.
Dalmatians and the Fire Service Today
You'd likely assume that since engine-powered cars were invented, there's no longer a need for Dalmatians as fire dogs. While that's true to an extent, many fire services have kept this image going, having one or more Dalmatians on-staff for companionship.
Horse-drawn carriages are, of course, no longer a primary means of transport, and there's no longer any need for Dalmatians in the role they held historically. However, the image of a Dalmatian is still associated with firehouses. Many of these establishments still have one or more Dalmatians that serve the role of mascot. While their role has changed, they are still an integral part of the team.
For example, the Los Angeles Fire Department has a Dalmatian called Wilshire, who assists in fire safety training. In New York, the fire department had a Dalmatian named Twenty, who was donated following the events of 9/11. Unfortunately, Twenty passed away in 2016, but her presence on the team helped to build morale, and she became something of a local celebrity among NY residents.
But Dalmatians are no longer the only dog you might encounter in a firehouse. It's become increasingly common for some firefighters to adopt dogs saved from fires.
Take Smokey for example, a black Labrador firehouse dog who supported the Jacksonville, Illinois Fire Department. After being rescued from a house fire and even resuscitated, she has been a member of the team ever since.
As we all know, dogs make excellent companions. This is also why many firehouses continue to have our four legged friends around. They help make the long stressful days feel even just a bit better with their company and love. No one can deny that.