Fire Horses

Updated: Jun 25

For a period of around 50 years, fire horses helped protect American cities. Although the last fire horses were retired almost a century ago, they remain one of the most interesting and popular topic in the history of firefighting.


It is not clear when the first horses were used to move fire apparatus. There is anecdotal evidence about occasional uses before the Civil War. With the widespread adoption of steam fire engines after the Civil War, fire horses started to be used. Many early steam fire engines had been light enough that volunteer firefighters could pull them by hand. As steam fire engines became larger and more powerful in the 1870s, the strength of a team of horses would be required to move them. By the 1880s, fire horses became an integral part of the fire service in American cities and, to a lesser extent, in larger towns.


Many small communities never used fire horses because of the costs associated with maintaining them. Horses required daily exercise if there were no alarms to answer. Horses needed to be cooled-off or warmed-up, as well as brushed and pampered. They ate regardless of if there was a fire. They needed regular veterinary care and a farrier to maintain their shoes and hooves.