Why Do Dalmatians Work With Firefighters? The History May Surprise You

Dalmatians have served as firefighting companions for several centuries.

Jamie Bichelman - Author

Mar. 5 2024, Published 3:32 p.m. ET

A Dalmatian stands in a fire truck at the FDNY event supporting "The 101 Dalmatians Musical" in New York City.
Source: Getty Images

The noble, admittedly adorable, highly dedicated look upon a Dalmatian's face as they ride beside their firefighting companions in parades and community events has left many children and parents alike wondering how the spotted dog breed became the animal face of firefighting.

Dalmatians are a loyal dog breed suitable as working dogs, providing a boon to firefighters' mental health and serving as a lovable face for community outreach.

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Now that we've created a burning desire to learn more about the connection between the Dalmatian breed and firefighters, keep reading below to learn more about the captivating history.

A Dalmatian sits in a fire truck at the FDNY event supporting "The 101 Dalmatians Musical" in New York City.
Source: Getty Images
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Why are Dalmatians fire dogs?

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), Dalmatians have served as firefighting companions since the mid-1700s and proved adept at guarding horse-drawn stagecoaches and their passengers.

The dog breed eventually became so inseparably linked to firefighting that, according to the AKC, the Westminster Dog Show featured "Fire Department Dalmatians" from 1910 to 1940.

The Canada-based Windsor Fire & Rescue Services (WFRS) explains that Dalmatians also staved off thieves looking to steal the horses from the stagecoaches parked at hotels overnight. Over time, observers noticed a strong bond would form between Dalmatians and horses, making the breed the perfect companion even for stagecoach operators unaffiliated with firefighting.

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Per the WFRS and LiveScience, the indefatigable breed managed to keep pace with horses carrying firefighters to the scene of a fire, sometimes up to 30 miles daily.

According to LiveScience, when firefighters prepared to leave the fire station to attend to a fire, Dalmatians would bark to alert bystanders that the fire wagon was soon en route.

Dalmatian mascot "Twenty" supports FDNY Ladder 20 Engine 13 in New York City.
Source: Getty Images
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"I've heard accounts that Dalmatians would sprint ahead, making all kinds of noise and blocking intersections for the horse-drawn carriages pulling the fire engines," says Shawn Goldberg, a Las Vegas-based firefighter, exclusively by phone to Green Matters.

Goldberg also notes that fire stations like his incorporate ATF-provided accelerant and explosives detection canines as well as FEMA-provided search and rescue dogs.

What's more, just as some dogs dutifully provide emotional support to humans, LiveScience notes that Dalmatians offered similar comfort to horses upon arriving at the scene of a fire, as horses were known to be spooked by the blaze.

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What is the purpose of a firehouse dog?

The technology incorporated into fire trucks and public emergency alert systems has advanced significantly over the last few centuries. As a result, the scope of a Dalmatian's firefighting duties has changed.

Today, according to LiveScience, Dalmatians maintain a presence in firehouses just as much for the tradition as their ability to serve as loyal companions to firefighters between calls.

However, that doesn't mean Dalmatians have lost their working utility. LiveScience notes that Dalmatians remain faithful guardians of the possessions within a firehouse and have proven helpful at keeping away pests from the station.

As Reader's Digest explains, it's not uncommon for Dalmatian dogs to serve as mascots, accompany firefighters to public education outreach events, and help firefighters maintain their spirits amid the difficulties of the job.

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