Harnessing Horsepower

Aerial apparatus, early 20th century. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection (94-01-1142 recto)Aerial apparatus, early 20th century. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection (94-01-1142 recto)

The Calgary Fire Department used horses to pull heavy equipment, like the aerial wagon pictured above, until 1933! They got their first motorized vehicle in 1910, but it took a good 20 years to completely phase out the wagons. Fire horses needed to be intelligent, capable of pulling heavy loads, and able to run like they were on a race track. Chief ‘Cappy’ Smart handpicked each one and also helped neighbouring fire departments select their teams.

Left: Candid photo of two firefighters, early 20th century. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection (94-01-1151 recto). Right: Fire Hall 1, Calgary, early 20th century. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection (94-01-1120). 

Calgary’s fire horses, much like today’s firefighters, wasted no time getting out of the station when the alarm sounded. If you look carefully at the above postcards you’ll notice that harnesses were hung from the ceiling directly in front of the fire wagons. When the alarm bell rang, horses positioned themselves under the harnesses, firefighters lowered the harness with a pull of a rope, and within seconds the horses were strapped in and ready to go!

Here’s another picture of a fire station with a clear view of the harness system.

Interior view of fire station with fire dogs and three firefighters (NAN).  

 

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