History of Dalmatians As Fire Dogs: How The Breed Became Fire Icons (2024)

History of Dalmatians As Fire Dogs: How The Breed Became Fire Icons (1)

Dalmatians Sussex and Bingo Bango, with members of the Defense Squad of the Boston Fire Department, 1943.

  • Dalmatians have a history as stable guards and carriage dogs dating back to the 1700s.
  • The FDNY began utilizing Dalmatians are fire dogs to accompany carriages as early in the 1870s.
  • Dalmatians remain a fire icon today, as evidenced by ACE Award winner Molly the fire safety dog.

Dalmatians are iconic dogs, and not just because of their distinct black spots on white fur make them instantly recognizable by people of all ages.

For centuries, Dalmatians have been the unofficial mascot for firefighters in the United States. In years past, they stood tall along those who risked their lives. Even today, Dalmatians are often brought into schools for fire safety education.

Where It All Began

According to Cheryl F. Steinmetz, the historian for the Dalmatian Club of America, the breed’s evolution to fire dog began as early as the mid-1700s.

“They were stable guards,” she says. “They also ran with the carriages to guard whatever was in the carriage, whether it was passengers or goods.”

There are various reasons why the Dalmatians served as stable and carriage (also known as coach) guards.

“‘As a companion, the Dalmatian is unequaled,'” Steinmetz quotes former Dalmatian Club of America vice-president Harry T. Peters as saying in a 1905 Field and Fancy article. “‘He can be broken as a pointer, he will even run a rabbit if need be. He will follow his master all day on foot, or after a carriage, and will be interested in everything that is going on.”

She also points to a theory that this role developed from the breed’s notable, albeit scientifically unproven, affinity towards horses. The ongoing curiosity about Dalmatians even led to a Harvard study to understand how the dogs were drawn to their coach positions. According to Steinmetz, certain dogs would automatically gravitate toward certain positions, whether it was the back or right under the horse.

History of Dalmatians As Fire Dogs: How The Breed Became Fire Icons (2)

This dapper Dalmatian was afforded its own personal space alongside its company’s FDNY fire truck.

Duty-Driven Dalmatians

The Fire Department of New York City can take some credit in making the breed famous as fire dogs. Due to their expertise as carriage dogs, it was logical that Dalmatians would serve well running with fire carriages. FDNY began utilizing Dals as early as the 1870s.

“Back then, the fire equipment was horse-drawn,” says Steinmetz. “The dogs came in as guards to clear the way in front of the horse. When the horses left, they stayed.”

The celebration of Dalmatians as fire dogs soon escalated and dog shows evaluating carriage guard skills began increasing.

“On the East Coast, there were road trial competitions and coaching competitions, to see how well the dogs would stay with the carriages,” says Steinmetz.

In 1910, the Westminster Dog Show developed a category for Fire Department Dalmatians. The inaugural winner was a Dal named Mike from New York’s Engine Company 8 on 51st Street. The tradition lasted for the next 30 years until being discontinued.

Certain national and regional competitions still evaluate carriage skills. These include the speed, endurance, and affinity toward horses that historically made Dalmatians such good fire dogs.

“There are titles for coach in road trial competitions,” says Steinmetz. “For the longest, the dog has to go 25 miles with the horses, with vets checking them along the way to be sure they’re in good shape. It’s something we do now to make sure they keep the affinity with the horses.”

A Lasting Friendship

In that same 1905 Field and Fancy article, Peters credited firefighters with keeping the breed’s allure alive.

“The firemen have done more to keep the Dalmatian from dying out during its eclipse from fashion than the stablemen,'” he is quoted as saying. ‘The firemen speak in high terms of the courage and fidelity of the spotted dogs.'”

More than a century later, even with no remaining need for Dalmatians’ specific coach skills, firefighters still embrace Dalmatians as their brave companions. And the Non-Sporting spotted dogs have long been returning the favor.

History of Dalmatians As Fire Dogs: How The Breed Became Fire Icons (3)

Keep Kids Fire Safe ® Foundation

2019 ACE Award winner Molly educates others through fire safety videos and Skype sessions.

Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, two firefighters from Rochester, NY, gifted the FDNY Ladder 20 company a Dalmatian puppy, who was appropriately named Twenty. The pup served as a source of comfort to the firefighters, who lost seven members of the company. When Twenty died in 2016, the company mourned her loss deeply.

“She really helped to build the morale in the years following 9/11,” said FDNY Lieutenant Gary Iorio on Facebook after Twenty’s passing. “I can’t say enough about what she did to help us.”

Most recently, a fire safety education Dalmatian named Molly and her owner were awarded the 2019 ACE Award in the “Exemplary Companion” category, helping to prove that the indelible bond between Dals and firefighters remains strong to this day.

History of Dalmatians As Fire Dogs: How The Breed Became Fire Icons (2024)

FAQs

History of Dalmatians As Fire Dogs: How The Breed Became Fire Icons? ›

The tradition of Dalmatians in firehouses dates back more than a century. Nowadays they mainly serve as mascots, but before fire trucks had engines, Dalmatians played a vital role every time firefighters raced to a blaze. It all dates back to when people used horse-drawn carriages.

How did Dalmatians become fire dogs? ›

Because of the dog/horse bond, the Dalmatian easily adapted to the firehouse in the days of horse-drawn fire wagons. Since every firehouse had a set of fast horses to pull the pumper, it became common for each group of firefighters to keep a dalmatian in the firehouse to guard the firehouse and horses.

What do Dalmatians symbolize? ›

For centuries, Dalmatians have been the unofficial mascot for firefighters in the United States. In years past, they stood tall along those who risked their lives. Even today, Dalmatians are often brought into schools for fire safety education.

Where did the fire dog come from? ›

When horse-drawn fire carriages hit the scene in the late 1700s, carriage dogs became fire pups. Dalmatians were perfectly suited for the job, not only because of their carriage-trailing abilities but their grace under fire.

What are the famous fire dogs? ›

By a landslide, the most famous fire dog breed is the Dalmatian. That's because these spotted beauties have a long legacy with the fire department.

What was the purpose of fire dogs? ›

In the early years, a Dalmatian had two primary purposes as a fire dog: to clear the way for the horse-drawn engines as they raced through the streets and to offer comforting reassurance to the horses when standing beside the chaotic scene of a burning building.

Why Dalmatians fire trucks? ›

The tradition of Dalmatians in firehouses dates back more than a century. Nowadays they mainly serve as mascots, but before fire trucks had engines, Dalmatians played a vital role every time firefighters raced to a blaze. It all dates back to when people used horse-drawn carriages.

Why are Dalmatians so special? ›

Dalmatians have a strong hunting instinct and are an excellent exterminator of rats and vermin. In sporting, they have been used as bird dogs, trail hounds, retrievers, or in packs for wild boar or stag hunting. Their dramatic markings and intelligence have made them successful circus dogs throughout the years.

Why are Dalmatians so rare? ›

Everyone wanted one without knowing the temperament or the energy level of the dog. The dogs were overbred and then soon turned into shelters. Dalmatians are difficult dogs but their personality and their loyalty is second to none.

What is unique about Dalmatians? ›

The Dalmatian's delightful, eye-catching spots of black or liver adorn one of the most distinctive coats in the animal kingdom.

Are Dalmatians still used as fire dogs? ›

One of the oldest traditions still honored in US fire departments is having a Dalmatian in the firehouse. Today, the black-spotted pups serve strictly as mascots, station dogs, and fire safety dogs. But the Dalmatian's firefighting origin story is far more heroic than most people know.

Why is it called a fire dog? ›

The term firedog seems to arise from the perceived similarity of an andiron to a dog lying by the fire. In English, however, this form may also have been influenced by French: another French term for an andiron is chenet, which originally meant 'little dog'.

What is a fire dog called? ›

Sparky the fire dog is a Dalmatian who has been the official mascot of the “National Fire Protection Association”, a United States organization in charge of creating and maintaining minimum standards and requirements for fire prevention, suppression training, and equipment since 1951.

Are Dalmatians smart? ›

Dalmatians are highly energetic, playful and sensitive dogs. They are loyal to their family and good with children, although some Dalmatian experts caution that the breed may be too energetic for very small children. These dogs are intelligent, can be well trained and make good watchdogs.

Are fire dogs still a thing? ›

There isn't really a need for firehouse dogs any more. Their original job was to protect the horses and wagons back in the days when firefighters used horse-drawn water tanks, and obviously that is no longer necessary. But some firehouses still keep a dog around, both as a mascot and a pet.

Why are Dalmatians spotted? ›

The distinctive coat pattern of a Dalmatian is the result of the interaction of several loci. While the encoded function of these genes is not fully understood, it is known the Piebald, Ticking, and Flecking loci interact to produce the Dalmatian's classic pigmented spots on a white background.

Did Dalmatians used to be fire dogs? ›

The Dalmatian did the job proudly but they had some drawbacks. They were hard to get and many of them were deaf. The American fire service was well served by this noble breed. These free roaming dogs would dash out at passing teams of horses.

Are Dalmatians aggressive? ›

It is generally affectionate, especially toward family, and typically gets along well with other household pets. Some Dalmatians, however, can be aggressive toward unfamiliar dogs. True to their heritage, Dalmatians are known to have a natural affinity to horses.

Why are Dalmatian dogs deaf? ›

The Dalmatian dog is susceptible to congenital deafness which is thought to be inherited. The condition cannot be treated or cured, but controlled breeding could prevent or minimize the occurrence. An understanding of the quantitative relationship between the relevant attributes (sex, colour etc.)

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