When a fire truck drives by, you expect to see firefighters, sirens, and hoses on it. Sometimes—at least in movies—you'll see a Dalmatian on there, too. You've always wondered: Why are Dalmatians working for the fire department?
It turns out, there is a rich history of this breed working alongside firefighters.
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The history of Dalmatians and the fire department
Dalmatians began working in firehouses in the mid-1700s. Cheryl F. Steinmetz, the historian for the Dalmatian Club of America, told the American Kennel Club that these dogs were stable guards and carriage dogs, meaning they would watch over and defend anything in the stable or carriage, like passengers and products. The Dalmatian was chosen for this position because they can run fast, are easy to train, are alert, and are very loyal to their masters.
Additionally, Dalmatians were very good with horses. They would calm the horses down and stand by their side. Dalmatians also have a loud bark and exceptional endurance and loyalty.
In the 1870s, the Fire Department of New York City brought Dalmatians along to run with fire carriages. The fire equipment was horse-drawn, according to Steinmetz, and the dogs would clear the way for the horses. People started hosting coaching and road trial competitions "to see how well the dogs would stay with the carriages," said Steinmetz. Then, in 1910, the Westminster Dog Show introduced a Fire Department Dalmatians category; it lasted for 40 years.
Dalmatians in today’s firehouses
While fire departments no longer need Dalmatians to run along and guard carriages, some firehouses are still employing these dogs to help out and comfort the firefighters, as well as to teach fire safety to children.
After the September 11 attacks, firefighters from Rochester, New York gave the FDNY Ladder 20 company a Dalmatian named Twenty. The company had lost seven members on 9/11, and Twenty helped comfort them. When she died in 2016, FDNY Lieutenant Gary Iorio posted online, "I can't say enough about what she did to help us."
In California, the Los Angeles Fire Department employed a Dalmatian named Wilshire. He would teach kids how to stop, drop, and roll if their clothes ever caught on fire, and to get low and go if they were in a smoky place. Wilshire passed away in early 2021. Shortly after he passed away, the LAFD wrote on the dog's Facebook page, "Wilshire served as the City of Los Angeles Fire Dog for almost 17 years. Wil touched countless lives teaching children and their families how to stay safe."
What are Dalmatians like?
You may never have seen a Dalmatian outside of a firehouse or Disney's "101 Dalmatians," and you might not be familiar with this breed.
Dalmatians weigh 45 to 60 pounds when they are full grown and they live 10 to 12 years. They are highly energetic, sensitive, and playful, and do not bark or dig very much. Interestingly, they have a good memory and remember if they have been mistreated in the past. They are highly intelligent and can be trained as watchdogs.
Dalmatians love to be with humans, and tend to get upset and start to destroy things if they are left alone. They need a lot of exercise every day and need to live in a place where they can run around and play.
Dalmatians have long been mascots of fire departments across the United States. They started out as carriage dogs and started riding on fire trucks later on. Today, they may teach children fire safety and be a source of comfort for firefighters in need. They are perfect for the job, as they are highly intelligent, energetic, and have a loud bark.