When the Gong Rings
A Fire History of Charleston, Illinois
 

 

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13.   ABOUT THE FIRE HORSES MANUALLY PULLED TO HORSES

 

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CARE OF THE HORSES

 

In the days of horse-driven fire trucks, the care of the horses would have to be around the clock, especially in the busy big-city stations. Alarms were received around the clock. Horses would eat many lighter, exactly measured meals, never getting completely full. The men who cared for the horses were their drivers and the rookie firemen. These men would be totally dedicated to the horses. The firemen of San Francisco had a strictly supervised routine relating to horse care, "... under the supervision of the superior officer (with regular inspections by the chief) . . . each day, the regular allowance of cooked grain for the horses was set aside by the driver at one o'clock in the morning, the assistant house-watchman was required to pour boiling water over the grain in a bucket, and then fix the cover on tightly so as to prevent the escape of steam. On feeding the first batch to the horses about 5:30 A.M., another batch was immediately prepared. A handful of salt had to be thrown into the oats while they were steaming. Should this be forgotten, the firemen soon knew it, for the horses would refuse to eat. A full bucket of water had been given at 5 A.M. and it was repeated again at 6 P.M., after another bucket of water." The horses were wiped clean and brushed after every alarm, their nostrils and mouth were sponged with cool water. The driver of the horses would become the horse's closest companion, or master. The men would usually get one day a week off-duty, so you can see that most of their life was devoted to fire-service.

 

THE DRIVERS

It took a good driver to control three 1,300-1,400 lively & spirited horses, hooked up to one rather top-heavy and very heavy wagon. To begin with, as soon as he would mount into his seat, he would be strapped in. This was strictly enforced by fire department

 


rules. The horses would respond to his voice commands, as well as special conditions en-route to the fire. In one instance a team of horses could not miss running into a trolley car. One horse was put out of commission, would have to be destroyed, the other two would be reconnected to the steamer. The driver was OK. The trolley car was derailed. The remaining two horses, steamer and the driver would continue on and still make it to the fire very quickly. The drivers had to have a great deal of courage and stamina. The horses were very dedicated to their driver and their job. In another instance, to demonstrate the horse's dedication, there was a horse which was good at releasing himself from his own stall and visiting other horses and the fireman on duty. One particular night this horse made the trip up the stairs to find his driver (master). He succeeded in this task and was standing nose-to-nose looking at his master. After waking up to quite a surprise and the laughter from other firemen, he tried to take his horse back down stairs. The horse wouldn't cooperate. In the end, the men had to remove a large window (of the station) and lower the stubborn horse by rope and tackle. It ended up being a tremendously large job. A bit more security was applied for the sleeping quarters of the station after that event.

 

AT THE FIRE
The horses would pull the vehicles into place and then be disconnected from the fire truck to be placed in a position away from the heat and danger. [See the manual for placing of the engine at the scene]. During bad weather, the horses would be covered with blankets to protect them. When reading about fires in the old days, it often tells of how the trucks would have to be moved during a fire. The horses would often be connected and disconnected often. They were used to this action. They would get dirt, smoke dust and water on them while at fires. It would be up to the rookies

 

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