One of the most beloved symbols of the fire service is the Dalmatian dog. The origins of the breed are shrouded in mystery. Experts are unsure really how old the breed is. It is known that the Dalmatian, because of its poor hunting abilities, was relegated to the stable area of fine homes. It was in these stables that the Dalmatian became acquainted with the horses.
Dalmatians were adopted by the fire service in the days of the horse-drawn fire wagons because they were agile and not afraid of the horses. When a fire alarm sounded, the Dalmatians would run out of the firehouse, barking to let bystanders know that they should get out of the way because the firefighters’ wagon would soon come roaring by. Once the wagon was out on the street, the Dalmatian, with its superior agility and endurance would run out in front of the horses and clear the streets for the approaching fire wagon.
The brave, loyal dogs also served an important purpose once the wagon approached a fire. Horses are afraid of fire, and the Dalmatians’ presence could distract and comfort the horses as they pulled the wagon closer to a blaze. The Dalmatians also stood guard near the wagon to ensure that no one stole the firefighter’s belongings, equipment or horses.
When the horses were replaced by gasoline driven fire engines, many fire departments kept their Dalmatians. In some areas you can still see the Dalmatian standing proudly on top of the fire engine as it races to another emergency.