Detroit Fire Department History – Last Running of the Fire Horses

Today in DFD history – April 10, 1922

The last run of the Detroit Fire Horses took place down Woodward Avenue. 

More than 50,000 people gathered to witness the historic last run or Peter, Jim, Tom, Babe and Rusty, the horses of Engine 37’s steamer and hose wagons.  They  dashed down Woodward on a symbolic final emergency as a fake alarm sounded at the National Bank Building.

last running

Nostalgic spectators lined Woodward from Grand Circus Park to Cadillac Square, cheering while the fire department’s band played Auld Lang Syne.  According to The Detroit News, many in the crowd cried as the horses passed.

1922 preparing for the last run

Preparing for the last running of the Detroit Fire Horses.

The department established a Horse Bureau in 1886.  It was written: “To be an ideal Fire Department horse the animal must possess exceptional intellegence, an even yet strong temperament, tractability, perfection of body, limb and wind, and the required weight.”  During that time, the description of what was needed to be a fireman was much the same, but with one omission…. there was no mention of exceptional intellegence.

Framed photographs of favorites horses hung on firehouse walls, and citizens knew many of them by name. Tom and Harry were a pair of 1,800-pound brutes who were the stars of a Ladder 1.  “When Ladder No. 1 was called to a downtown fire, hundreds stopped to admire the horses,” recalled one old Detroiter. “Tom and Harry were the recipients of a lot of candy from women in the shopping district.”

The decision to replace the horses with mechanical vehicles met with a fury of objecions by firefighters and Detroiters.  It was argued that the horses were much more reliable.  The motorized vehicles were hard starting and break down too frequently. The firemen joked about the mechanical vehicles, nicknaming it the “Hustle Buggy.”

The debate over their beloved horses’ replacement continued for several years.  By 1908 there was no putting off the future. That year, the department unveiled its “Flying Squadron,” a roomy Packard filled with fire extinguishers, axes, and a dozen firemen.  It was “the fastest piece of human machinery in Detroit,” an observer marveled, a “throbbing, clanging devil wagon” that hit speeds exceeding 40 mph while responding to alarms.  Fourteen years after the purchase of the first Flying Squadron, the last five hooved firefighters retired to an “Equine Elysium” in Rouge Park.



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