You may have seen photos of firefighters with Dalmatians around the horse-drawn fire “trucks” and are wondering why Dalmatians, rather than any other dog breed, are considered fire dogs.
Firefighters from the FDNY in the 1870s were the first in the USA who began using Dalmatians to guide and accompany the horse-drawn fire carriages. The dogs cleared their way and guided the horses to the fire.
Today, with the motorized modern fire trucks, some fire departments still have Dalmatians, but as companion dogs.
But this dog breed is still considered a mascot for firefighters. They also participate in fire safety education programs organized in schools around the country.
Overall, Dalmatians are intelligent and hardworking dogs with superb endurance and with no fear of horses.
With their unique spots and thanks to the Disney classic “101 Dalmatians,” they are also one of the most recognizable dog breeds in the world.
What Makes Dalmatians The Best Fire Dogs?
The truth is that these unique spotted dogs are muscular, strong, and can cover long distances. The breed was developed and used for centuries to produce “coach dogs,” which could run along the carriages and calm the horses.
The Dalmatians owned as coach dogs by the aristocrats in England even slept in the stables alongside the horses and worked as “stable guards.” They are among the few dog breeds that are not afraid of horses and can keep them calm.
Plus, Dalmatians have impressive endurance and are hardworking and loyal.
Dalmatians For Beating The Competition
Back in the 1870s, the firehouses were privately owned equities. They competed with each other for territory and for, putting out fires, and getting paid by the insurers.
Dalmatians were highly efficient in guiding the horses and fire carriages to the fire as quickly as possible. This allowed the firefighters to get there first and then claim payment for their services.
Plus, these strong dogs are pretty protective. They guarded their own horse-drawn fire “trucks,” the horses, and the crew from the competitors.
Last but not least, these athletic dogs are definitely eye-catching animals. They drew attention to the horses and the fire truck, so they served as status symbols and for showing off by the different private firehouses.
The competition became so fierce that in 1901, the Westminster Dog Show added a new category. It introduced Fire Department Dalmatians to its program. The first winner of this prize was a Dalmatian named Mike from the New York Engine Company 8.
This category remained active at the famous dog show for another 30 years until it was discontinued.
But today, there are still some regional and national competitions for the carriage skills of Dalmatians. These test their speed, affinity to the horses, and endurance.
Dalmatians And The Arrival Of The Motorized Fire Trucks
When the first motorized fire trucks began replacing the horse-driven fire carriage trucks, the role of the Dalmatians in the actual firefighting service naturally diminished. The reason is that the vehicles didn’t need a pack of beautiful dogs guiding them.
Still, luckily the Dalmatian is still a firefighting mascot, and there are some fire teams that have one or two of these dogs. They display them with pride and as symbols of the heroism of their ancestors.
Dalmatians As Companion Dogs For Firefighters
Some fire stations still keep one or more Dalmatians as mascots and companion dogs. And it is pretty common for the firefighters themselves to prefer having a dog of this breed at home as a companion dog and beloved pet.
These pups are loyal and help their humans cope with the difficulties and sometimes tragedies associated with the tough job of being a firefighter.
Today’s Relationship Between Firefighters And Dalmatians
Some experts claim that the firefighters of the 19th century should be largely credited to have saved the Dalmatian breed. More than the stablemen, who also used the dogs for guarding and accompanying their horses.
While today they are not really needed for the actual firefighting work, Dalmatians are often still found present at various fire stations around the country. They are also common pets in the private homes of firefighters.
One story that touched the world after the 9/11 attacks was of a Dalmatian puppy named “Twenty,” gifted to the FDNY Ladder 20 Company by two firefighters from Rochester. The dog served as a source of support and comfort after the fire department lost 7 of its men during the attacks.
The dog remained with the firefighters until its demise in 2016 when Twenty was mourned deeply.
In 2019, another fire Dalmatian dog named Molly was awarded the “Exemplary Companion” award by the ACE. The award was for being an essential part of its owner’s fire safety education work.
In any case, although they are more of mascots rather than working fire dogs, Dalmatians will most likely always be associated with the brave work of the firefighters in the future too!