Everybody Needs a Hero!

The Chelsea firehouse is home to Hero the Firedog. He and

Lieutenant Don Williamson have made it their mission to teach

children about fire safety.

Text and Photography by Edward Badham

Hero the Firedog

The age-old adage is true, we all do need a hero. We need  someone to look up to, someone to admire. Our heroes give us the strength and courage to be a better person or maybe just to get through a tough day. Heroes come in many forms, some real and some fictitious. But wherever we may find our heroes, and whether or not they have a letter or a number on their chest or just grey hair and glasses, they make us want to be better people.

Birmingham has its own hero in canine form: Hero the firedog. Hero resides in the remote southern suburb of Chelsea. Hero is Greater Birmingham’s only true firehouse Dalmatian. The Dalmatian is an iconic symbol of  firehouses and firefighting. Rarely do you see a book or an illustration about firemen that does not depict a Dalmatian. However, because of the rigorous and costly training the breed requires, there are very few in actual firehouses.

Originally, in the 1700s and 1800s, the Dalmatian was recruited  as a firehouse worker because of its natural relationship with horses. Dalmations have always had a natural calming effect on horses. The dogs would escort the pump cart horses to the fire and maintain a clear path for them, as well as guarding the horses and the wagon during the firefight. This was especially important during this early period, because firefighting was a highly competitive business and not government regulated. So whoever got to the fire first got the job. One company  might try to edge out another, so the dogs would have to be very proactive in keeping a  clear radius around the wagon and not allowing any strangers nearby.

When Lieutenant Don Williamson, Hero’s master and trainer, decided to renew this firehouse tradition, he knew he had his work cut out for him. The Dalmatian is a temperamental breed, and finding the right pup with a proper pedigree was the critical first step. Williamson immediately enlisted the help of Creative Dog Training in Homewood. CDT began the search. After the perfect pup was found, the specialized training began. CDT took Hero through a six-week boot camp. This basic training is the foundation for Hero’s lifetime of learning. Soon Hero will begin training to go on actual emergency calls where he will assume the traditional roll of guarding the truck and watching over the firefighters as they perform their duties. All of Hero’s training is paid for through private donations and sponsorships. No tax dollars are used for his care.

Currently Hero’s primary role is  that of an educator. Williamson takes Hero to classrooms all over the city, and together they teach and demonstrate fire safety to eager young minds. One of Hero’s most popular demonstrations is the Stop Drop and Roll. This always brings on a round of applause. Williamson has been teaching fire safety in schools for years, but his canine friend makes a big difference. “Since I have had Hero I have not seen the children so captivated by the lessons,” he says. “The children are excited by a firetruck, but they are delighted and enthralled by Hero.” You may also see Hero in a parade riding next to Williamson in his period fireman garb, perched on one of Captain Bill Graham of Vestavia’s personal  antique firetrucks. So citizens of Birmingham may rest at ease knowing that Hero is out there making our city a safer place to live. •

To keep up with Hero and his schedule you can friend him on his Facebook page www.

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