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dalmation-firetruck-02My Dad used to tell me the story of why firemen had dogs, specifically those beautiful white-with-black-spotted dalmatians, on their fire trucks. “Used to tell me” is a bit of a misnomer as the story continues to pop up on a regular basis even now in his 89th year.

Recently the story took on new significance because I just returned from Croatia, the Dalmatia region from which the dogs get their names.

Historically, dalmatians became associated with firemen because they would run alongside horse-drawn fire wagons on the way to the fire. The dogs would fend off other dogs, warn ahead to keep the path clear, and provide comfort to the horses at the fire scene (not surprisingly, horses aren’t particularly fond of fires). Their presence became so routine that fire houses started keeping dalmatians around for company even after “horseless carriages” came into existence.

But that’s not the story my Dad would tell. Settling into his Mona Lisa smile and leaning down as if to tell you a secret, he would inform us that a teacher asked her young students, “Why are dalmatians always on fire engines?” The students would think a bit and then take turns responding:

“To keep the firemen company,” one child would say.

“To help smell the smoke and find the fire,” another would suggest.

And the third child, as my Dad’s smile grew in anticipation of the punch line, would say:

“To find the fire hydrant!”

Now if that isn’t the most profound answer ever heard.

[Written in response to the one-word prompt – Profound]

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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