American History

Goodbye, horses: Firefighters trade their steeds for motors


The fire horse — strong, proud, majestic — once figured prominently in the romantic imagery of fire fighting. But that began changing early in the 20th Century as fire departments began trading in their steeds for motors, as one fire chief chronicled in an article, "Motorizing the Little Rock Fire Department," in the March 1915 edition of The American City.

"Many intelligent horses have been trained in the Little Rock department, but the day of the horse is going fast," Chief Charles S. Hafer wrote. The chief heralded the many improvements after the Little Rock fire department added eight pieces of motor apparatus beginning in 1911.

Motorized vehicles got firefighters to the scene more quickly, particularly on long runs when "horses could not have stood the strain." The mechanized equipment also saved lives, Hafer said. He recounted one incident when the department's new tractor-drawn aerial truck, with a 75-foot extension ladder, plucked to safety four men who had been cut off by a fire and trapped on the third floor.

Other new equipment included a combination pump and hose car and a combination chemical and hose car, both motor-driven. Hafer said the additions helped boost Little Rock's fire fighting efficiency to a 100 per cent rating by the National Board of Fire Underwriters.

Perhaps most surprising, switching from horses to motors was cheaper. Hafer said it cost more in one month — $132.85 — just to feed the department's horses than the entire cost — $131.69 — of operating the motor vehicles.

Discuss this Blog Entry 1

on Nov 27, 2013

Oh thank you so much for sharing these rare photographs. It’s really amazing to see the fire engine that is used in 90s. However at that time the technology was not developed much. Thanks for another great post. Please keep posting.
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