It was before the Civil War that one of the first uses of horses to pull firefighters and there equipment was recognized. For generations, horses were required to carry firefighters to every fire within a city.
In firefighting, the period from the Civil War to the early 1920’s could be known as the era of fire horses.
It clear early on that only a special group of horses could become part of the fire department team. Fire horses required strength, stamina, and intelligence. Their training took between one and two years, and some cities even had a horse college where the fire horses would be trained.
After their training, fire horses were put into three classifications to be best suited for the type of work they were going to be required to do.
The lightweight were 1,100-pound horses that were used on hose wagons. The middleweight were 1,400-pound horses that were used on the steamers; and the large were 1,700-pound horses that were used to pull the hook and ladders as well as all other heavy fire department equipment.
As the case with any fire, responding quickly is most important. A fire horse could be ready to go in less than a minute with a system that firehouses adopted during this time. A network of leather straps would be hung from the firehouse ceiling. When the alarm was rung, the horse would rush into place underneath. A firefighter released a switch, and the harness dropped down around the horse’s body. With three snaps, the collar was closed and the reins were attached to the bit.
Fire horses had demanding jobs. They had to gallop uphill on hot summer days and down icy streets in the winter. They needed to possess many qualities, but most importantly, they needed to be calm. They had to be willing to stand and wait patiently while engines ran, firefighters scattered, and flames spread.
On April 10, 1922, a crowd of 50,000 people gathered to watch the last run of Detroit Fire horses. The final five fire horses dashed down Woodward Avenue on a symbolic fake fire alarm that sounded at the National Bank Building. The crowd lined down the street and cheered as the final five made their last run to the music of the fire department’s band. According to The Detroit News, many in the crowd cried out of nostalgia as the horses passed them by. The last five horses retired to Equine Elysium in Rouge Park.
Fire horses thrived in their fire department jobs, and they have rightfully earned their spot in firefighting history.
The era of the fire horse lasted roughly fifty years. All of these years later, we celebrate both the horses and our first responders on First Responder Day at Arlington.
There will be first responder perks and fun activities for the entire family. First Responders (EMT Fire, Military, Police) will receive free General Admission.
There will also be a live DJ on the Miller Lite Band Stage as well as a petting zoo, pony rides, face painting, and other hands on activities for kids.
Gates open at 12:00 PM with first post at 1:25 PM on Sunday.