Dalmatians in firehouses aren’t a recent phenomenon. In the mid-eighteenth century, carriage drivers noticed that dogs, and dalmatians in particular, had a very calming effect on their horses. The dogs were first used to run on either side of passenger carriages and keep horses calm when distractions or things that might spook the horses arose. This practice was adopted by Fire Brigades in the late 1700s when horse-drawn fire carriages hit the scene.
Dalmatians were often chosen by firehouses over other dogs as they not only calmed the horses, but had incredible endurance, were very loyal, and had loud barks. This was key in the early days of fire carriages as the small pack of dogs that would run beside the carriages was also used as a sort of siren to warn pedestrians that a carriage was coming and they needed to clear a path. When the firefighters would run into buildings, the dogs would stay with the horses, calming them, and keeping pickpockets away. At the time, dalmatians were just another dog, but now you may have a harder time getting your hands on one, as they’re one of the most expensive dog breeds in the world.
Centuries later, horse-drawn fire carriages are a thing of the past, but the imagery of the dalmatian and firehouses remains. Today, a firehouse might have one or even two pups as mascots and companions, often a dalmatian in honor of the tradition. Firedogs do still serve a purpose in firehouses, but it’s a far cry from horse-babysitters and makeshift sirens. The dogs are meant to keep the firefighters cheerful and excited after long, difficult days, and in some places, help teach fire safety. The Los Angeles Fire Department keeps a young dalmatian named Wilshire on staff to help teach children how to Stop, Drop, and Roll if their clothes ever catch fire, and Get Low, and Go if they are trapped in a smokey area.
A very special dalmatian pup named Twenty was donated to the New York City Fire Department shortly after 9/11 in honor of the seven members from Ladder 20 who had died in the twin towers. “She became our mascot and companion. She really helped to build morale in the years following 9/11. I can’t say enough about what she did to help us. She went on all the runs, she’d jump in the truck, stick her head out the window, and bark. She became a local celebrity,” FDNY Lieutenant Gary Iorio from Ladder 20 wrote on Facebook in 2016 when Twenty passed away after 15 years of service as a firedog. Add this to the list of tear-jerking stories of rescue dogs finding their forever families.