24 October 2022
The image of a spotted Dalmatian riding shotgun in a fire truck is an iconic sight, but its origins are less well known. Whether they are 17th-century carriage dogs or modern-day firehouse mascots, these brave and beautiful canines represent the heroic work of their humans, and sometimes, they even get involved.
Before there were fire dogs, there were carriage dogs. Several hundred years ago, dogs were trained to guard horse-drawn wagons and protect their occupants (and horses).
A “carriage dog” is not a straightforward breed, but certain breeds were more suited to the lifestyle. There were a few critical features needed in a carriage dog:
Thus making the perfect candidate the Dalmatian. The American Kennel Club’s Complete Dog Book sites that Dalmatians are excellent carriage dogs because they are strong, vital, fortified, and large enough to carry them throughout the journey. Also, Dalmatians were known for getting along well with horses, so they quickly became favored carriage dogs among wealthy Americans and Englishmen.
Horse-drawn fire carriages came on the scene in the late 1700s, and carriage dogs became fire pups. In addition to their carriage-trailing abilities, Dalmatians are also known for their grace under fire. While firefighters battled a fire, Dalmatians could stay with the horses to ease their stress. The fire dog would typically sleep in the stable with their equine charges back at the station.
Dalmatians are great around horses, but they can’t match horsepower! Motorized vehicles put an end to carriage dogs’ work. However, just replacing the horses didn’t mean the Dalmatians would go anywhere. By then, the public was used to seeing Dalmatians alongside firefighters. With the advent of gas-powered firetrucks, fire dogs needed a new job description.
Over the 20th century, many fire stations in England and America kept Dalmatians as residents and mascots. Modern firehouse dogs can perform the following tasks:
Dalmatians and other fire pups also played an essential role in fire safety education during the 20th century, helping firefighters demonstrate emergency preparedness and fire safety to schools and community groups.
Other dogs perform important fire safety tasks outside the firehouse, such as accelerant-sniffing “arson dogs.” Arson dogs are trained to detect traces of accelerants (lighter fluid, gasoline, etc.) that may have been used to start fires. Then, after a fire has been extinguished, these super-sniffers work alongside firefighters and law enforcement officers to investigate the scene.
It has been a long time since fire dogs ran alongside horse-drawn wagons. There is no limit to the size, shape, or breed of a fire dog these days. Due to their centuries-old reputation as the perfect fire dog, dalmatians remain the most popular firehouse mascot. No matter how they look, firehouse dogs are reminders of how firefighting technology has advanced, how firefighters save lives, and their unwavering loyalty.