Dogs of the Realm

In the days before the New Society arrived with rules and regulations we used to have engine house dogs. These animals were usually strays that became attached to the Firefighters. Soon the dogs would have a warm place to stay and a bowl of food to eat at their leisure. In return the stray animals would protect the fire hall when the Firefighters were at a fire.  Some dogs even learned to ride the rig. They would stand on the hose bed looking around the cab of the engine with ears flapping in the wind as the men sped to a fire scene. A few of them would howl and bark to help the siren clear the way. A few of these dogs became legends of the department. Some names that come to mind are Spot from Engine 27, Bob of Engine 10, Scurvy from Engine 29, and King of Engine 39. King was probably the most famous of all the dogs. He lived in the toughest neighborhood. Dope pushers were always trying to shoot him. Other strays were constantly challenging King for control of the streets in the area.

King was a lover and would sometimes leave the Fire house for a few days to make his romantic rounds. King was a big animal. He looked like a cross between a German Sheppard, a pit bull, and a horse. His playthings at Engine 39 were a bowling ball and a railroad tie. If you could throw those things King could retrieve them. Being detailed into Engine 39 for a day was a harrowing experience for Firefighters who did not know King. When you arrived at the parking lot you could hear a barking and roaring that sounded like the lion exhibit at the zoo. Entering the fire hall you had to submit to a thorough sniffing by King as he eyeballed you with red eyes and raised hair. Most men were accepted but those who did not smell right were followed by a growling King all day long. For those not approved by King, permission had to be granted to leave by a regular company member. If you touched the door handle King would fly into a threatening rage. During the reign of King there were no engine house burglaries when the men were at a fire. He was a special dog. Any of you Engine 39 guys out there who have a good King story please contact me at


Correction: My memory is not as good as it used to be. Some of my running mates are starting to send corrections to some of the errors I am making. It is appreciated in the name of good journalism, or what an old retired Firefighter calls journalism. The following comes from a squad man who was detailed in to Engine 36 and apparently didn’t get full approval from the company dog. The story is about another famous canine called Baron.

The dogs name was Baron (not King) and he was at Engine 36…Helen and Miller. I bear a scar on my right hand from trying to take a tennis ball out of his mouth when he desired to keep it there. I was detailed from squad 6 at the time. The members of Eng. 36 posted a score on the chalkboard. Baron 1 and the detail 0. He definitely was a big dog of the Shepard breed…East side dogs rule...


No king story……. but one of my own. I was a Highland Park Fireman back when there was a serious fire department in that city. In about 1974 or 1975. I was running at Ladder 4 at Sturdivant, just off the T-alley at Hamilton.

I was driving to the engine house one day and found a Collie-Shepard mix on the Lodge Freeway around Linwood. The dog had tried to jump over the cement median barrier where a light pole was mounted into a sort of “V” depression. The dog got hung up in the crotch of the “V” between the pole and one side of the cement and was hanging there.

I stopped on the expressway, got him loose and saw a remnant of a nylon rope still hanging around his neck. He was matted, dirty, and ultimately full of fleas. I took him to the fire house, bathed him over and over and got some anti- flea soap. He ended up fluffy, sleepy, and full of Engine house food.

My unit and the other unit took to him and he was a great engine house dog for about a week and a half until the Assistant Chief was told by the Chief that the dog had to go.

Channel 7 TV came out and did a story, showed our crew and the dog and gave out the engine house’s pay phone number. The phone started ringing off the hook and we could become selective, weeding out prospective adopters based on our perceptions. Finally somebody sounded great, came to the fire house and took our friend to his new life in the burbs. I’m sorry to say I don’t remember the name we gave him. He brought out the kindness in guys otherwise stuck in a place that generally didn’t engender kindness. I hope he’s listening to the gong in the same house as King these days.


The Origin of King

Bob: A dog story about "King" from Engine 17. I got the dog from a friend of mine from Melvindale who kept him chained up in back of his print shop. He knew the dog needed more freedom than that. Took him to Engine 17 on my day off, introduced him to all the guys, walked him around his area etc. I left him there after a few hours. Wondered how long it would take him to acclimate himself there. Went on Duty the next morning and the dog seemed fine, very friendly to all the guys, no barking etc. While having coffee in the kitchen we hear this ferocious barking out by the watch desk. I go running out to find a guy from the Burroughs factory, across the street, who stepped inside to use our pay phone, backed up to the wall with King holding him there. King knew he was not like the rest of the guys. I found that to be incredible, that in less than 24 hours King knew who belonged in the fire hall. Chief Marcena Taylor was the 4th Battalion Chief then and he did not trust the dog too well. One night the dog was barking in the middle of the night and the Chief hollered down to shut that damn dog up or he would personally get rid of him in the morning. The man on watch hollered up to the Chief: "He's trying to get out to go after the 2 guys trying to break into your car, should I keep him in or let him out?" The bad guys hearing all the commotion took off, but in the AM, the Chief sure was singing the praises of King saying what a great dog he was.

Story from Tom Hart. Tom can be reached at

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"Fire Horses" book authored by firefighter R.J. Haig.


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