Whenever I take a moment to look back at the different ways horses have served us through time, I am once again reminded of how much we owe them. There’s no need to list them all here, I know…there are big, fat history books that can illustrate our intertwined existences quite thoroughly. But how often, as we watch a massive hook-and-ladder roar by or pull the car over for a fire engine to race past, do we remember that at one time horses were the means to firefighting? From around the Civil War until the 1920s, “fire engines” were truly horse-powered. It’s not surprising, perhaps, but when you think about the logistics, as a horse person, you might start to be amazed. Stabling in the firehouse? Harnessing and hitching at speed? Galloping through crowded city streets? Standing calmly beside a raging fire? What wouldn’t some of us give for a horse with the body and mind to withstand such pressures!
This short video gives you some idea as to how the fire horse lived and worked:
In his book BETTER THAN BOMBPROOF, TSB author Sgt. Rick Pelicano explains that the fire horses of our past are good examples of how important brave and “bombproof” horses are to humankind—even today. Here’s the story of one equine hero that Sgt. Pelicano shares:
Tom who was the last “fire horse” in Washington, DC. Tom’s heroic career demonstrates the importance of sane, dependable, responsive driving at a time when people depended upon horses to keep their homes intact and their loved ones safe. The story has great personal meaning to me, since Tom was named for my great-grandfather, Thomas Buckley, who was a member of the DC Fire Department.
Not every horse could serve as a fire horse. They had to live at the station, often stabled with bits in their mouths in order to be ready to run at the sound of the alarm. They had to be strong, swift, and agile, and yet quiet enough to stand in the face of a blaze while firefighters fought the flames and embers around them. They were remarkable examples of how brave and bombproof horses can improve the lives of humans—in more ways than one.
Horse-drawn fire engines were eventually replaced by the motorized sort we are familiar with today, and DC’s last fire horse and his “team”—Tom, Barney, and Gene—made their final ceremonial run in 1925. Tom was retired “to pasture” where he lived 12 more years. Upon his passing, a monument was erected in his memory, engraved with, “In Memory of Tom, Last Horse in the D.C.F.D.”
Thank you to all the horse heroes who have been brave, strong, patient souls we could rely on—our gratitude is deep and true.
Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.