Molly McMule - 1001 Stall Stories

"Cool night, eh Deke? . Deke - hey Deke, why are your ears pointing out? Beau, do you hear something too?" asked Jesse.

Just then he realized that all his stable mates had their ears pricked forward, and then, with a jolt he heard it too. It was the fire siren. wailing. and then he heard the engines rumbling and the bells clanging. It was a fire and it was not too far away. The engines passed by and they all breathed a sigh of relief. It was not their farm, thank goodness.

"Makes me think of all the times I heard my grand-uncle Jack talk about his job as a fire horse, and about how the teams got the fire fighting equipment out of the engine house to the fire. They were strong horses, and fast too. They had to be, because speed was everything. As soon as the fire bell sounded and opened their stall doors, they would bolt out of the barn and race to the station to be harnessed to the pumpers and ladder wagons," said Jesse.

"That must have been an exciting job," Beau whispered, still listening for more sounds of fire equipment. "Can you imagine what it was like back when Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over the lantern in the barn and started the Great Chicago Fire?"

"Well, that was never really proven, but they do know that the fire started in the O'Leary's cowshed behind their house," Jesse stated, "and then to make matters worse, the watchman sent the firefighters to a spot about a mile away. By the time they got to the fire, it had spread so rapidly that it couldn't be controlled anymore."

"Yeah, I heard that it raged for more than a day and burned houses, businesses, churches and just about everything on 73 miles of streets in the city," said Beau. "A real tragedy, lots of people died and lots more were homeless."

"Fire horses were well trained, practiced each night to run at the first clang of the bell. They would get harnessed and then take off like racehorses. They had to be fast and strong to be able to pull the equipment, and when they weren't going to a fire, they were often used in cities to pull trash wagons."

"Jack said sometimes if the fire bell sounded while they were hauling trash, they would bolt back to the fire house and leave the garbage men standing in the middle of the street. That must have been good for a few hee haws, right Jesse."

"You bet. Fire horses were retired after about four or five years of service, but they would still race through the pastures if they heard a bell ringing. Talk about conditioning!"

"Whew! The 'all clear' is sounding. Now we can relax and get back to our hayracks. I feel tired just thinking about all the work and excitement," Jesse said chomping away on his oats.

Molly says you might want to read "The Way We Lived" by Martin W. Sandler for other ways that horses were used in the turn of the century cities. Also, check the internet for more information on "The Great Chicago Fire 1871". There are a lot of interesting sites to visit.

For an accurate and complete history of fire fighting, visit

The Fire Museum of Greater Harrisburg

1820 North Fourth Street

Harrisburg, PA 17102


or find a museum near you at

Fire Museum Network