What Was A Fire Horse?

Posted on October 3, 2017 by Jerrilee.
Categories: equipment, handicap, health, history.

firehousephoto from Detroit News, 1910
Fire horses pulled the fire wagons through town and country directly to the scene of the emergencies. As fire companies grew the upkeep of the horses evolved and transformed to reduce response time to fire alarms.
At first horses were stabled near the stations. When the alarm sounded, it took valuable time to unlock the barn, fetch the steeds and harness them to the engine. Before long, the horses lived at the station and the reluctance to accept them was replaced by a deep affection for the noble animals.
The stalls were positioned behind or next to the rigs. In 1871, a quick hitch was developed. Two years later, Charles E. Berry, a Massachusetts firefighter, created a hanging harness with quick-locking hames. His invention was so popular he left the fire department and sold his patented Berry Hames and Collars nationwide.
Not every horse could serve as a fire horse. The animals needed to be strong, swift, agile, obedient and fearless. At the scene, they needed to stand patiently while embers and flames surrounded them. They needed to remain calm while the firefighters fought the blaze. This was the case in all weather conditions and in the midst of a multitude of distractions.  (courtesy firehistory.com)

Info from New Bern Firemen’s Museum:
Fred was part of a horse team that pulled the fire wagons in the early 1900’s. Fred was bought from a Gastonia, North Carolina, man in 1908. For years, he pulled the fire company’s wagon, marched in parades, and competed against other fire horses. He died on the way to a false alarm, apparently of a heart attack, at age 25. His driver, a man named John Taylor, died only a couple of weeks earlier. Fred’s contemporaries — Old Jim and Ben Hurst — were other fire horses whose legends are preserved in stories. The two belonged to Atlantic’s rival volunteer company — the New Bern Steam Fire Engine Company No. 1, which was incorporated just after the end of the Civil War in 1865.
During the war, the Atlantic company basically was inactive, with most of its members away in the fight and Union troops occupying New Bern for three years. After the Confederacy surrendered, some of those Union soldiers stuck around the area and continued their volunteer fire company with about 30 men. The New Bern Steam Fire Engine Company No. 1 would eventually be nicknamed the Button Company after it bought a Button fire engine in the 1880s.

Fred, worked nonstop during the worst fire in New Bern’s history. On the morning of December 1, 1922, a fire sparked at a lumber yard and spread quickly. While firefighters toiled to put out the massive flare-up, a separate fire kicked up in a residential area about a mile away. High winds swept the sparks from house to house, and fires multiplied throughout the predominately black neighborhood. A newspaper account of the event in The News & Observer said flames “spread out like a giant fan” until they reached the Neuse River.

shoeing fire horse,1920's

shoeing fire horse,1920’s

Fire horses were replaced by 1929. The Portland newspaper wrote:
“Despite the thrill of watching motor apparatus roaring to a fire many recall the ‘days of real sport’ when horses started for a fire and deeply regret their passing.The horses will be sent to a farm to pass the rest of their days in easy work.” Feb 16, 1929, Portland Evening Newpaper.
On May 13,1929, the Portland News wrote: “[For the past six years] each night at 8:59, 20 juveniles would gather at the fire station to wait for the nine o’clock horn blow. The fire horses would come in, back into the stable for their run harness and the kids would go to the stable door to watch the big horses made ready. The attraction of the animals for the children has never failed during the last six years.Farewells have been said to the big black horses by more than a score of youngsters in the vicinity and tears were falling fast from the eyes of the kiddies in the neighborhood.”

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