And in the days of horse-drawn engines and a less-sophisticated alarm system, firehouse dogs played an important role.
Often a stray who found his way to the house or an unwanted pup given to the chief, many these canines served their companies heroically, explains 1897 New York Times piece.
“When the alarm rings, Jack hurries the horses by biting at their hind legs,” stated the Times.
“He runs with the team, directly in front of the engine, and when the scene of the fire is reached is the first to investigate, dashing recklessly in amid the smoke and flames.”
At Engine 25 on Fifth Street, Barney (right) was the resident fire mutt.
“At a fire in Engel & Heller’s wine cellar recently one of the men was overcome by the smoke,” noted the Times.
“Barney saw his comrade’s danger, and, remaining by his side, barked furiously until the others investigated and found the unconscious fireman.”
Spot, of Engine Company 21 on East 40th Street, also earned kudos. “She goes into all the fires, unless too hot, and has distinguished herself for her bravery a number of times,” wrote the Times.
In 1936, on something called Animal Hero Day (sponsored by the New York Anti-Vivisection Society), a 3-year-old dalmatian named Susie, from Engine Company 2 on Lafayette Street, scored top honors.
Susie “was sunning herself in front of the firehouse when she smelled smoke in a paper twine warehouse next door,” stated the Times. “Her frantic barks brought the firemen and the blaze was put out.”
While helping with firefighting duties, “’Chief’ received numerous injuries, such as: cuts from broken glass and falling debris, burns from scalding water, and bruises from falling off the fire engine,” states the website of the New York City Fire Museum.
“His hallmark rescue was in 1936, for which he won 4 medals of honor. On November 21, a fire broke out in the Bermudez home in Brooklyn.
“Sixteen year-old Johnny Bermudez escorted his family part way downstairs but went back to the fourth floor to get his cat. ‘Chief’ ran into the building and returned carrying the cat, with his teeth.”
After being killed by a car in 1939, firefighters had Chief stuffed and mounted in the firehouse. Today, he belongs to the Fire Museum (above).
[Top and bottom photos: NYC Fire Museum; photos 2 and 3: NYTimes; photos 4,5, and 6: MCNY digital collection]