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Superior’s Firefighting Horses

Superior’s Firefighting Horses

Before engine-powered fire trucks were seen speeding from Superior’s fire halls toward plumes of smoke, galloping horses pulled fire hose and ladder wagons toward blazes. Horses naturally fear flames and often become nervous when they catch a whiff of smoke. But because horses were necessary in getting to and fighting fires, the horses working in fire halls were trained to gallop directly to a fire, pulling fire-extinguishing equipment in their wake. Log book records kept by Superior fire fighters provide a wealth of information about the maintenance and care of fire-fighting horses.

A cart and harness prepared for a fire run.

A cart and harness prepared for a fire run.

The East End Fire Hall was built in 1898. In August of the previous year, Superior’s Evening Telegram printed an article about how the fire hall plans were drawn up. The building itself was two stories high and the dimensions were 60 feet by 65 feet. The first floor had space for nine horse stalls. According to the article, “These stalls are not arranged in the rear of the building as in the present system, but are so arranged that the horses after being released by the automatic action of the drop box, have only to go twelve feet to get in harness and ready for the start.” The horses were trained to leave their stalls and run directly to their places in front of the firefighting equipment and underneath the harnesses when the alarm bell rang. The harnesses were hung from the ceiling in such a way that only one or two buckles were required in order to hook the horse to the wagon and head toward the fire.

Note how the team of horses is very close to the burning building.

Note how the team of horses is very close to the burning building.

On May 4, 1898, a firefighter at the Connor’s Point Fire Hall wrote in the log book about the shoeing process. He penciled: “1:45 p.m. – Love brought extra team and took the regular team to shop to be shoed.” At 4:30 that afternoon, the firefighter wrote that the “regular team was returned and the extra team was taken away.” To keep the horses ready for a fire run, metal shoes were attached to their hooves. This was so that the horses would not easily bruise their hooves as they sprinted. If a horse’s foot was injured during a fire run, the horse would have to be taken out of use – even for months at a time – to allow the hoof to grow beyond the injury.

The shoeing process occurred every other month, and the fire hall logs include other horse-related notations such as new planks for stalls, as well as bags of oats and bales of hay for the hungry horses. The weight of the fire suppression apparatus meant that some of the fire horses had to be large and strong; draft horses were trained for this equipment while lighter horses were used for the fire chief’s wagon and sleigh. Two of the large draft horses stabled at the Connor’s Point Fire Hall were named Sandy and Prince. A log book note from the year 1900 stated that Sandy weighed 1310 pounds while Prince weighed in at 1297 pounds.

Horses remained an integral part of Superior’s fire halls until new engines and equipment were powerful enough to replace the horses’ speed and strength.