New York has had firefighters since Dutch colonial days, first in the form of volunteers and then, beginning in 1865, a professional paid force.
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.
There was Jack (left), of Hook and Ladder Company 18, on Attorney Street. He’s described as a “large, sober-looking, brown-and-black shaggy full-bred shepherd dog” by the Times.
“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.”
Jack reportedly would use his teeth to drag the hose up the stairs of a burning building, and when pleased “will show his teeth and laugh in a perfectly Rooseveltian manner.”
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.
“At command she bounds on the shoulders of a fireman, or on the back of one of the horses. The latter she makes her special charges . . . barking when they chance to gnaw at the pole straps.”
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.”
But perhaps no dog was honored for bravery more than Chief, a stray who hung around Engine Company 203 in Brooklyn in 1929 and stayed for 10 years.
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]