Dalmatians and Fire Fighting – Where did the Tradition Begin?

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Tony Maples Photography


The Dalmatian is a very physical breed, with a strong, muscular body, and able to run great distances without tiring.  English aristocrats during the early 1700s were among the first known to use Dalmatians to accompany their carriages, according to Trevor J. Orsinger’s book, “The Firefighter’s Best Friend: Lives and Legends of Chicago Firehouse Dogs.” The Dalmatians became a status symbol of sorts; the more Dalmatians you had running beside your coach represented your social standing.

Back in the day, before motorized vehicles, fires were fought using carts drawn by horses. These carts didn’t have the ear-splitting sirens and flashing lights our current fire trucks have to clear the way to the fire.  When the fire alarm would sound, the Dalmatians would rush out into the road ahead of the cart barking to alert people to clear the path, the fire cart was coming.


Photo: Commons/Wikimedia/Tiny Froglet

These strong, protective dogs would run alongside the horses and protect them from the roving packs of wild dogs that would often attempt to attack the horses.  They also scared off other wild animals along the way. Once the fire engines reached the fire, the dogs’ job was not done. Contrary to popular belief, these horses were not tame, tired out old nags. Most horses chosen to pull fire carts were high-spirited, energetic steeds, and they weren’t overly fond of flames. While the firemen unloaded their equipment and rushed to put out the fire, the Dalmatians would stay with the horses keeping them calm.

dalmatians blue-eyed-dalmation dalmations

Photo: Pixabay

The Dalmatians also stood guard to keep hooligans and brigands from making off with the fire fighter’s belongings. The dogs are also known to catch and kill rats that had taken up residence in firehouses.


Photo: Commons/Wikimedia/Firefighter Dayna Hilton

With the evolution of the motorized fire truck, the Dalmatian could have found itself retired. Instead, firefighters elected to keep the dogs as mascots and often use them to help connect with children while teaching fire safety. Often, in parades, you can see the Dalmatian hanging its head out the window of the fire engine directly behind the driver.

As you can see in the photo above, Sparkles is still a firefighter’s best friend.