I doubt if there are many people still alive that remember seeing horses pull a steam-powered pumper to a fire. But for about 50 years, from the 1870’s until around 1920, it was a common occurrence in large cities.
The horses were very well trained. At some stations when the alarm would sound the horses’ stall doors would open and they would walk out and position themselves in the exact spot so the harness could be quickly applied.
Below is an excerpt from Dennis Smith’s History of Firefighting in America:
…The stalls were positioned behind or next to the rigs. In 1871, a quick hitch was developed. Two years later, Charles E. Berry, a Massachusetts firefighter, created a hanging harness with quick-locking hames. His invention was so popular he left the fire department and sold his patented Berry Hames and Collars nationwide.
Not every horse could serve as a fire horse. The animals needed to be strong, swift, agile, obedient and fearless. At the scene, they needed to stand patiently while embers and flames surrounded them. They needed to remain calm while the firefighters fought the blaze. This was the case in all weather conditions and in the midst of a multitude of distractions.
The fire departments carefully selected their horses. Veterinarians for the departments evaluated each animal. Both stallions and mares were eligible to serve.
In Detroit, weight requirements were issued for the animals. Those pulling hose wagons must weigh 1,100 pounds, to haul a steamer 1,400 pounds, and to cart a hook and ladder 1,700 pounds. Stations also tried to create matched teams of two and three horses when possible…
In the video below the animals appear to be very excited as they are being harnessed just before they launch out of the station into a full gallop.
Fire horses became famous and much loved in the cities. In the next video some of the bystanders seem to be as excited as the horses.