Decatur, IL Fire Horses, 1904 ~ What Becomes of a Retired Fire Horse?

Decatur IL fire horses 1904


What becomes of the retired fire horse is a question frequently asked. Ask it of a fireman if you would have him wax eloquent. Touch him upon this subject and you bring forth a flood of memorials of old Dick, and Barney, and Jeff and others. And is not mere horse talk of the kind you would hear from the horse breeder, or dealer, or race horse man. He talks of old Bill tenderly and lovingly, as of a departed friend. He speaks of Bill’s personal qualities, if a horse may be permitted to have such qualities, and you feel quite sure that he has before Bill’s former driver has finished. You learn of Bill’s amiability, his fits of temper, his shrewdness, his determination, his weaknesses and you feel that Bill could do everything but talk.

The fireman’s horse is much more to him than most other men’s horses. He lives with his horse day and night. He grows to understand him, and the bond of affection is such that the fireman feels keenly when the horse goes on the retired list. Pathetic are the annals of the has-been under all circumstances and doubly so is the tale of the superannuated fire horse when you hear it from the lips of a fireman.

Great is the fall of the fire horse when he leaves the engine house for the last time. In the first place the fire horse is no ordinary horse. He usually has good blood in him. It takes good blood to supply the fire energy, speed and endurance necessary for a place on the fire department. Not infrequently he was a bad horse and could not be worked on a farm, but he does his duty beautifully and bravely on the department. It is likely that he has more intelligence and certainly has more training than the ordinary horse.

For all of the better years of his life the fire horse has been in the lime light. Bravely he has paraded in his glittering trappings when out for exercise and in a hundred fierce dashes to fires he has held crowds entranced. In the barn he is the subject of more attention in the matter of his health, his food, his cleanliness, his comfort and his appearance than usually falls to the lot of a human being. How then must his proud spirit be crushed when he steps form his proud position to the level of the common cart horse or maybe worse.

About eight years is the average active life of the fire horse. He goes into service seldom younger than 5 and by the time he is 14 or 17 he is usually ready to be retired. They used to last longer in the early days of the fire department, but then the runs were not so long or so numerous and there were no hard pavements.

Never in the history of the Decatur fire department has a horse been killed or permanently disabled by a fall, but there have been some bad injuries resulting from falls on the city pavement while running at breakneck speed. A fall on the brick pavement under such circumstances means some bad burns, if nothing worse, and horses have several times been laid up for weeks on account of them. The asphalt is more treacherous in winter than brick but a fall is not so serious.

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