A Word About Fire Horses.
A very interesting story may be told about the horses selected for fire duty in this city. Any one who has watched one of the crack engine companies tearing through the street in response to an alarm cannot have failed to notice how the horses strained every muscle to cover the distance as quickly as possible, with scarcely a touch from the driver’s whip. Some of the horses show an almost human intelligence.
Nowhere can that be seen better than in the house of engine Nor 7, at Chambers and Centre streets, where two horses, Jo and Charley, hold the record for the quickest time in getting into harness. Horses and men have to show off frequently for the benefit of visitors. The foreman sounds the gong in one of these exhibitions, but does not release the horses at once, as the regular alarm does by electrical apparatus. The two big horses, whose stalls are on either side of the engine, strain at their halters and jump in their eagerness to get to their places. The moment the foreman releases them by touching an electric button they spring forward and duck their heads under the collars suspended with the rest of the harness from the ceiling and ready to be fastened about their necks.
Sometimes the foreman snaps the collar beforehand to test the intelligence of the horses. Then Joe and Charley poke their heads through the closed collars and struggle until they get their heads through them. At an actual alarm of fire the horses will start on the instant, and they vie with the firemen in their eagerness to get to the fire.
It is plain that the horse plays just as necessary a part in the autonomy of the fire department as a human member. The more intelligent the horse is the quicker the engine or truck which he is helping to haul will be at the scene of a fire. Horses that enter into the spirit of the work as heartily as the firemen are almost invaluable, for every moment saved frequently counts for.much in saving life and property. It follows that the training of the horses which are added every year to the department is as Important as the training of the firemen, who must learn to handle the hose, axe and scaling ladder with expertness. Although that branch of the service is heard of seldom by the general public, Chief Bonner gives it the strictest attention, and the recruits in horseflesh have to go through an ordeal just as severe as that which their human allies must undergo.
The training stables in West Ninety-ninth street are in a quiet neighborhood, and the new building is used also as the department’s horse hospital. Foreman Joseph Shea, who is also Dr. Shea, has charge of the stables. He was graduated as a veterinary surgeon, and has been connected with the department for eleven years. His position is one of the most important in the department. He looks after all ihe sick horses in the engine houses, and iskept busy at the hospital with the horses laid up there. He buys the green horses for the department, accepting them only after they have shown their ability to do the woik required.
The commissioners allow $300 for the purchase of each horse, and Dr. Shea makes his selection from the big bunches of Western horses in the Bull’s Head markit. He always selects a horse of good size, generally blocky, with plenty of muscle. The horse that has speed and strength in good proportion is the horse that Dr. Shea is looking for constantly.
There are 800 horses in active service in the department, and about fifty recruits have to be added each year. They usually go up to the Ninety-ninth street stable on trial, half a dozen at a time, and Dr. Shea has a month in which to accept or reject any one or all of the lot. In that time he can te.l whether the horse is likely to be of atiy value.
As soon as the green horses arrive they are housed comfortably in the third story of the stable. Three roomy box stalls are there, too, and their doors indicate hard usage. “ Some of these green horses,” one of the stablemen said, “don’t seem to know anything else but how to kick, and they do that with a vengeance.” All of the new recruits do not take kindly to their new quarters, and still less to the training. In the ground story the green horse gets his first lesson. He is usually four or five years old. and barely broken to harness. A part of the story is partitioned off for a tender or horse cart. The customary big fire gong is on the wall, and all of the alarms from Morrisania to the Battery are sounded. In stalls beside the tenders the raw recruits are broken in, two at a time. At first they must become accustomed to the sound of the big gong. Most horses arc so confused by the clanging that they are absolutely intractable for awhile. Some never get accustomed to the noise, and these are rejected. In the course of a day or two the average recruit begins to understand that it bears a very close relation to his movements.