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The history of Dalmatians in the fire service

Dalmatians are known for their physical nature and guarding instinct; they were first used to run alongside horses in the 1700s


It’s no surprise to see that Dalmatians love the fast firefighting lifestyle.


German shepherds are often associated with police officers. The same can be said for Dalmatians and their association with firefighters.

But how did Dalmatians become the mascot of the fire service?

The answer might surprise you.

History lesson

Dalmatians are known for their physical nature — most can run long distances without tiring — and guarding instinct. In the 1700s, Dalmatians were found to have a calming effect on horses. Soon after the realization, they were used to run alongside horses in English stagecoaches. When other dogs would run out and try to scare the horses, the Dalmatians would chase them away.

So during the era of horse-drawn fire apparatus, Dalmatians would run alongside the horses to make sure they weren’t spooked or slowed down by pedestrians in the road. It has been said that they acted as “sirens,” barking to alert pedestrians that the fire brigade was en route.

While on scene, the horses were not comfortable being near fire. As a result, the Dalmatians would stay behind and keep the horses calm. They would also make sure nothing was stolen from the apparatus while on scene.

Soon enough, Dalmatians were a commonplace addition in firehouses and became a symbol of the fire service.

Present day Dalmatians

Obviously, horse-drawn apparatus were eventually replaced by motorized fire trucks. There’s no longer a need for Dalmatians to keep horses calm or run ahead of the trucks to alert pedestrians.

Dalmatians are no longer useful in this regard. However, their characteristics as fire pups are still noted:

In Newark, Calif., Bella, a 10-year-old Dalmatian, began barking when the washing machine in her owner’s garage caught fire.

And even more often, there are stories of firefighters adopting dogs rescued on a call or strays that follow them back to the firehouse. In fact, Chico, a Dalmatian puppy, followed Hillsborough County (Fla.) Fire Rescue firefighters back to their station after a call. Video of firefighters taking care of Chico on Facebook went viral. Although Chico eagerly made himself part of the crew, he was later reunited with his owner.

No matter if you prefer big puppy dog eyes or adorable kittens, there’s something special about having a furry four-legged crew member in the firehouse.

Dalmatians will always remain the mascot

Nowadays, Dalmatians can be seen riding inside a fire truck to a call, tagging along with firefighters to teach kids about fire safety, guarding firefighters’ possessions and they are even known to catch and kill rats inside firehouses.

Twenty, a Dalmatian given to FDNY firefighters after 9/11, was oftentimes seen riding up front, sticking her head out the window and barking as crews were heading to a call.

It’s no surprise to see that Dalmatians love the fast firefighting lifestyle. The breed is not for everyone — they’re described as having non-stop energy and need a way to release it. If not, they can become bored and quite destructive.

They require a lot of attention but they’re hard workers — something firefighters are also known for.

Sarah Calams, who previously served as associate editor of FireRescue1 and Fire Chief, is the senior editor of and In addition to her regular editing duties, Sarah delves deep into the people and issues that make up the public safety industry to bring insights and lessons learned to first responders everywhere.

Sarah graduated with a bachelor’s degree in news/editorial journalism at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. Have a story idea you’d like to discuss? Send Sarah an email or reach out on LinkedIn.