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May 28, 2014

Keeping the tradition

SARANAC LAKE The tradition of the firehouse Dalmatian lives on in the Adirondacks, thanks to Smokey.

The white dog with black spots arrived at the Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department in 2008, when she was a puppy. 

She is, in fact, “Smokey 6,” since the department has had five other Dalmatians with the same name, going back to the 1950s.

Head Fire Driver Rick Yorkey said Dalmatians can be difficult to find, but Smokey 5 and Smokey 6 came from a breeder in Poughkeepsie, who runs a business called Erin’s Lots of Spots.

“Once we found this lady, we stayed with her,” said Yorkey, adding that dogs in Smokey’s bloodline have done well in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

DALMATIAN HISTORY

Old photos in the firehouse archives show images of Dalmatians going back to the 1920s. For example, a 1926 photograph shows one atop a now-classic fire truck, seated next to a firefighter.

“That’s the history we know,” said Yorkey. 

He added, though, "we take it there was a dog here during the horse-drawn days.”

After all, the tradition of the firehouse Dalmatian started back then.

It all began because of the breed’s comfort level with horses. Dalmatians were not afraid of them and could be trained to work with them. 

Thus, they could run alongside the fire carts, keeping the horses on course and clearing the way. The dogs often had a calming effect on the horses. They also served to guard the teams from horse thieves.

In time, the black-and-white spotted breed became famous as the classic firehouse dog.

A DAY IN THE LIFE

Today, Smokey’s role is somewhat different. She visits local schools with the firefighters for a special program to teach children about fire safety and prevention. 

Smokey 5 was trained to “stop, drop, and roll,” Yorkey said, but Smokey 6 has a little trouble with that trick.

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