Acting Chicago Fire Commissioner Annette Holt has ordered an end to a treasured, but dying tradition — firehouse dogs — after a mixed breed at a South Side firehouse attacked and killed a neighbor’s dog.
The tragic incident happened over the weekend outside Engine 116, 5959 S. Ashland Ave. That firehouse dog, Bones, a larger mixed-breed, was adopted off the street years ago.
A woman was walking her smaller-breed dog on a leash past the firehouse when Bones ran outside and attacked. The smaller dog was rushed to an emergency veterinarian, but it was too late; the injuries were too severe.
“This could have been a child. This could have been much more tragic than it was. We also feel very bad. This is a neighbor’s dog. She lives about a block away from the firehouse. That’s also a tragedy — that she lost her beloved dog and was walking it. Doing everything right. Coming by the firehouse where she’s probably come by many times before,” said Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford.
“One of the overhead doors on the bays was up, being serviced. The [firehouse] dog got on the apparatus floor … saw the other dog, charged out of the firehouse after the dog and attacked it right there on the apron. It’s an unpredictable thing. We can’t risk that any longer.”
Holt is first deputy, serving as acting fire commissioner after the mandatory retirement of now-former Fire Commissioner Richard C. Ford II. She didn’t hesitate to make the decision to ban dogs from CFD firehouses. Holt could not be reached for comment.
“She’s a dog lover. A lot of us are. It’s something we regret we have to do. But there’s no hesitation in doing it. It’s what must be done,” Langford said.
“It’s done with the knowledge that you’re ending a tradition and a lot of the firehouses have dogs that are well-loved. It’s kind of sad. But we’re hoping that all the dogs that are in the firehouses — and we don’t think there are very many — will be able to go home with firefighters or paramedics and put ’em in a family atmosphere.”
Based on social media posts, Langford estimated only about 10 of Chicago’s 96 firehouses still have dogs.
He called firehouse dogs a time-honored tradition. There’s even a Facebook group devoted to those in Chicago — CFD Firehouse Pups, where members post pictures and videos of dogs — and in recent days have discussed, with some laments, the acting commissioner’s decision.
But Langford said the firehouse dog tradition already had been “starting to fade away” with the shift to larger firehouses and multiple companies, where some crew members get along with the dog and others don’t.
“Many of the firehouse dogs that remained in the current day were stars in their houses. Very loved. Kids would interact with them. Neighbors would interact with them. Some of the dogs were extremely smart,” Langford said.
“I remember a previous dog at 116 was so smart, he would ride in apparatus and he knew the bell code for which apparatus was supposed to go. …. There’s a different code for the engine, squad and truck. When the bell code would go off for the engine, he wouldn’t move. When the bell code would go off for the squad, he would get up, go onto the floor, get into the rig and wait.”
In January, Freckles the Firehouse Dog, the beloved neighborhood pet often called the honorary “mayor of West Loop,” died after nearly 17 years at Engine 103.
Freckles was well known among the neighborhood, popular on Facebook — where his page had amassed more than 1,225 likes — and said to have been the inspiration for the dog on NBC’s hit TV show, “Chicago Fire.”
A Dalmatian-pit bull mix, Freckles could often be seen on walks around the West Loop or perched on a yoga mat outside the firehouse, where he greeted neighbors. Business owners were happy to let him in for a visit. Strangers who recognized him from social media would stop to pet him.
Michelle Langlois, one of the handful of neighbors who helped care for Freckles, described him as a smart, intuitive dog who kept watch over the firehouse and loved people. The two grew so close, Langlois chose Freckles to be the “best being” in her wedding, sporting a bow tie and posing for photos next to the bride and groom.