We’ve all come to associate the Dalmatian with fire departments and fire fighters, but why and when did these these dogs become a firehouse mascot? Interestingly, their role in early firefighting was very important.
Dalmatians have been around for almost 600 years, and they were first associated with English horse drawn coaches of the 1700s. Because of their ability to run long distances, and their natural, calming effect on horses, Dalmatians were used to accompany the English coaches. The Dalmatians ran beside the horses pulling the coach and defended them against any encounters along the road. They were even used as guard dogs for the occupants of the coaches during stops. But Dalmatians, more than anything, became associated with horses.
This partnership with horses led to Dalmatians being used for an important task. Fire fighting equipment in the 1800s had moved from bucket brigades to hand-pump firefighting equipment. As this equipment grew larger, horses were used to pull the pumps to the fire, while many firefighters still had to get there on foot. But a horse is not particularly keen on being around fires, and this was where the Dalmatian came into the picture.
After an alarm would sound, Dalmatians would bark to alert the horses and the firefighters, and they would clear the way for the fire wagon. Dalmatians would run alongside the horses pulling the fire fighting apparatus and provided a comforting presence to the horses while they were by the fire. They also served as guard dogs, just as they had with the English coaches, so none of the equipment, or the horses, were taken while the firefighters were fighting a blaze.
In the firehouse, Dalmatians not only became a companion to the horses, they also developed a bond with the firefighters. They became a symbol of the fire department. This was why even when steam fire fighting equipment came into use, and horses were no longer needed, the Dalmatian continued to be a symbol of fire departments and fire fighting.
Dalmatians are still kept by some firehouses, and the breed is still largely an icon of fire departments in the United States and in other countries