In the past few years, firefighters have gotten increased, and deserved, attention and respect. But what of "that firefighter who is on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year"? That is the way Commissioner James T. Joyce of the Chicago Fire Department describes the firehouse dog in the introduction to _The Firefighter's Best Friend: Lives and Legends of Chicago Firehouse Dogs_ (Lake Claremont Press) by Trevor J. Orsinger and Drew F. Orsinger. It is no exaggeration to say that these dogs are for the most part not ornaments, not pets, but working dogs, busy with their responsibilities and taking them seriously. The authors are not firemen, but like many people, they admire firemen, and they realized that though there are volumes to record the history of the Chicago Fire Department, there were none devoted to its dogs. For some reason Chicago has a lot of these dogs, perhaps more than anywhere, and the stories here are funny, loving, and inspiring.
It is commonly thought that firedogs are just for show, good public relations for fire departments. They do get trotted out for photo ops and in parades, but many of the dogs here have valued roles as real worker dogs. Engine 30 has a dog named Thirty, a Dalmatian that has made 14,000 runs over the past nine years. Once on the scene, many dogs are eager to get into the work, helping to haul hoses or even entering buildings that are on fire. Many of the dogs are useful ratters. Dogs who stay in the firehouse are charged with guarding the valuables the firemen leave behind. It is significant that Chicago firehouse dogs do not have normal dog lifespans. Some of them die in the line of duty, boldly accompanying their men into burning buildings. Bruno of Engine 19 died from cancer caused by repeated smoke inhalation. Dogs do fall off speeding engines. Rags of Engine 24 stepped into water that had been electrified by a fallen wire and died, but his death ensured that his firemen avoided the same fate. One dog after another here is described as meeting death by being hit by a car at the scene. Sometimes dogs are too slow to move out and are run over by their own trucks, and more than one has been killed by being shut in the big firehouse door. Sometimes the fire station is in a bad part of town and the residents attack the dogs as symbols of authority. The other great hazard is obesity; the firemen all love to give their dogs table scraps.
There are lots of fine pictures here of dogs happily sitting on their engines, climbing ladders, marching in parades, posing for formal pictures with their crews, obligingly wearing fire hats, and being petted by guys who love them. There are plenty of dogs named Smokey here, and also Sparky, Ashes, and even Arson. There are stories of the far less successful firepig, fireduck, firegoose, and firegoat. There are great stories of heroic dogs, and if one or two have become exaggerated in the retelling by the firemen, that is only a tribute to the love and respect the firehouse crews bear for their mascots.