Horses in the Department

Fireman George Vining with two of the fire horses in front of the Fire Station in the Old City Hall. Mr. Vining served on the department from 1907 to 1913.

The use of horses to transport fire equipment to the fire scene began in 1870-74 and continued until 1924 when the last horse drawn ladder-chemical unit was taken out of service. This happened at the same time the East side station #2, on Potter Street was closed. The horses were kept in stalls at the back of the station. The fire apparatus, whether they were steamers, hose Carts, hook and ladder, or chemical units were always in place with harnesses in a hanging position controlled by ropes and pulleys.

The horses were very intelligent and well trained. When the fire bell rang, the horses would come out of the stalls and get into position under the harnesses. The firemen would drop the harnesses into position and cinch them up in seconds, ready to respond to the fire. The horses were given daily exercising on the street, which is said to have attracted attention, particularly from the children.

A close relationship developed between the fire horses and the firemen. The firemen were concerned about the horses when they became ill. This was evidenced in the minutes of April 4, 1876: “The horse ‘Tip’ is still improving but will not be fit for duty for some time.” Another entry into the November 1895 minutes went into great detail: “Old Dick the fire horse is still ailing.” This entry was followed in the December 1895 minutes, which listed the expense of $2.50 to Dr. Lee Wintz for chloroforming Old Dick.

When Chief Fred Bills was stationed at the East Side #2 station as a fireman and lived with his family in the house adjoining the station, the whole family became attached to the horses. Chief Wilbur Bills recalls his mother talking about two of the horses, “Bob” and “Dick” almost as though they were family.

When the East Side station was closed in 1924 the horses were sold to fanners. The story is told that everything was O.K. until the dinner bell was rung. The horses jumped the fence and were hard to find and to control.

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