It was a cold winter day when Sparky first came to the Batavia firehouse and scratched on the door. His teeth chattered with the cold and his spotted coat was matted with burs and sleet.
“Open the door for that dog, Johnny!” one of the fireman called out.
“Well, would you look at that…a Dalmatian!” said Chief Richter when Sparky walked right in. “it must be fate that brought him here, or that’s a firehouse dog. A real smoke-eater!”
All the fireman gathered around and held out their hands for Sparky to sniff. “Somebody must own him,” said Johnny as he scratched the dog’s ear. Sparky thumped his tail and then curled up in a tight ball at Johnny’s feet.
Chief Richter bent down to look at Sparky’s collar, hunting for some kind of identification. But he found nothing to give him a clue. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could keep him?” he said. “this station could use a mascot––after he is cleaned up, of course.” The chief was very proud of the clean and shiny appearance of the small station house and the two fire trucks.
“We’d better advertise in the lost and found column,” Chief Richter continued.
“And hope nobody answers,” added Johnny.
The firemen advertised in the paper for several weeks, but no one ever claimed Sparky. Meanwhile the dog had made himself completely at home in his new quarters. The men fastened a cap badge to his collar, with a number 8 on it and the insignia of two cross ladders, and a fire hydrant.
In a short time Sparky felt so much a part of the group that when men sat at the table to eat, he would run and get his empty pan so someone would fill it for him.
There were four firemen who stayed at the station house, two at a time, in twenty-four-hour shifts. The Dalmatian loved all of them and followed wherever they went. It was only natural, therefore, tha the should want to follow along with them when they went to fires. He learned very soon to tell the difference between the alarm phone and the office phone. The minute the alarm phone rang he seemed to catch the excitement. Before the firemen even had tim eo blow the siren and grab their coats, Sparky would make a dash for the ladder truck and take his position behind the cab.
“Listen to that fellow bark,” laughed Chief Richter, when the alarm sounded.
“if something goes wrong with our siren we can use Sparky instead,” said Done another of the firemen. Spark would start to bark the minute the alarm sounded, and as the fire truck left the station, his excited yapping could be heard all the way down the street above the wailing of the truck’s siren.
Sparky grew wise in the ways of the firehouse. As summer drew near, the firemen put up a screen door between their living quarters upstairs and the open station below. Sparky could get in from downstairs all night, but as soon as he was inside he was trapped by the screen door until someone let him out. Since he was in the habit of sleeping at the foot of the firemen’s beds, that screen door cause the dog no end of trouble. One night, soon after the screen was put in, the alarm rang at 3 o’clock in the morning. Johny and Don slid down the pole and left Sparky peering down throught he opening at them. Naturally, they didn’t have time to come up and open the screen door. And so Sparky was left there while the men were away at the fire.
The next night when bedtime came, Sparky didn’t follow Bill and Chief Richter up to the bedroom. He climbed on the ladder truck in start, and curled up on the canvas that covered the hosebox.
“Can’t leave YOU at home, can we, fellow?” Johnny said.
Thereafter, Sparky slept on the truck every night. During the day, if he was out chasing rabbits in back of the station when the siren blew, he could tear after the truck and get on with a mighty leap as it slowed down to round the first corner.
One summer morning Johnny got out the flea soap and filled the laundry tub with warm water. Sparky made himself very heavy and kicked frantically in the air as the firemen lifted him into the bath. “We want to be proud of you at the fire drill tomorrow,” Johnny said, rubbing the soap into a lather over Sparky’s stomach. Sparky resigned himself to his fate but managed to look as if he didn’t have a friend in the world.
Don was busy washing the wheels of the pumper truck, and a volunteer firemen named Mac was inspecting a new aerial hose that would be used for the first time in a drill tomorrow. “I’ll be glad to take part in that drill,” Mac said. “I’m going to close up my paint store for the whole day.”
Chief Richter had come down to the station house, too, even though this was his day off. “You’re sure you fellow know the schedule for tomorrow?”
“Let’s go over it again,” Johnny suggested. He was pushing Sparky down into the tub every time the dog decided he didn’t want to stay there.
The chief went over to help. With one hand firmly pressing down on Sparky’s head he spoke so all the men could hear him. “Listen carefully, please. All four paid men, and as many volunteers as can make it, are to be here at 11 o’clock in the morning. Every fireman that can be spared and every fire company in the county will be represented at the demonstration.”
Mac had not heard these instructions before. “I don’t believe I know exactly what we are going to burn down.”
“Well,” said the chief, “do you recall seeing that abandoned factory about ten miles out on Route 59? The building was going to be torn down anyhow, and the owners have donated it for the use of the county. That gives us all a chance to test our equipment. We’re especially glad of the chance to try out our new apparatus.”
Johnny lifted Sparky out of the tub when the chief finished talking. Everyone ducked as the dog shook the water from his coat, and Chief Richter took refuge behind a truck.
“Chief, I don’t understand why we should go to so much trouble to put the fire out if they want the building burned down anyhow,” Johnny said.
With the sleeve of his coat Chief Richter began to rub a few of Sparky’s water drops from the door of the ladder truck. Her turned and glared at both Johnny and Sparky, then said,” We’ll finish burning the place after we see how long it take to bring the fire under control. And please get that dog away from this clean truck. I want everything to look ship-shape for tomorrow.”
That night after everything in the station was shining with cleanliness, Johnny and Don sank wearily into their beds in the firehouse. An unusually clean Spark was snoozing, all sprawled out over the back of the ladder truck.
And then at 11:55 the alarm phone rang! Instantly, Sparky was alert. First he could hear Don pick up the receiver and he knew that while the fireman was listening to the message, he was busy struggling into his bunkersuit. (A bunkersuit is a pair of boots, attached pants and short coat worn by firemen.)
By the time don had hung up the phone and was sliding down the pole, Johnny was similarly dressed and came sliding down right after him. Don pulled on the lever to blow the siren and Johnny pushed the button to raise the big front doors.
Sparky, in his favorite place behind the cab, barked loudly to show that he was eager to get started.
Don shouted to Johnny over the sound of the siren. “It’s the roundhouse over at the railroad yards. If we take the county-line highway, it’s only seven miles.
Johnny peered out the cab window to see which of the other mend would be first to arrive. They couldn’t leave on an out-of-town call until they had a full complement of firemen.
Chief Richter drew up first in his car, for his home was nearest the station. He parked quickly, then hopped aboard the truck. Almost at once two more men arrived and jumped on.
“We have our crew. Let’er roll!” called the chief. And the heavy truck lumbered out of the station.
Sparky barked with wild excitement and kept it up during the whole trip to the railway yards. From all directions came the mournful sounds of other sirens. The intense glow from the fire could be seen from miles away. Just as the Batavia unit drew up to the fire area, part of the roundhouse roof gave way. A thunderous crash echoed through the night, and showers of sparks flew up like Roman candles.
Swiftly, the Batavia firemen rolled out their hoses. As soon as they had made connections with the hydrants they joined with the other fire companies in directing streams of water into the roundhouse.
The roof had collapsed on a section of the building where steam locomotives were kept. Since no steam was up in the boilers of these engines, they could not be driven out under their own power.
“Shoot a stream of water at that engine with the burning cab!” shouted Chief Richter as they singled out one of the steam locomotives. Meanwhile firemen from other towns were busy trying to hook cables onto the fronts of these locomotives so as to draw each one out on its own track.
Through all the confusion and activity, Sparky stayed close to his own company. He barked constantly as if to encourage his friends. When the men pulled down parts of the roof with their pike poles he seemed to know exactly where the debris would fall. He ducked falling timbers and scrambled over hoses. By 2:30 in the morning the fire was well enough under control that some of the fire companies prepared to leave.
As the trucks began to depart, Sparky decided he’d better check all the remaining trucks for dog scents. But apparently no other fire company kept a dog as a mascot. Then suddenly, over the smell of burning wood and paint he cought a most interesting scent. Rabbit! Without any further thought of the fire or his friends, he took off.
The Batavia force stayed to put out the last sparks of fire, then wearily rolled up the hoses and placed them on the truck.
“Have we got all our ladders and axes and tools, men?” the chief called out.
Eventually everything was gathered up and the men took their positions on the truck. Johnny started the motor and turned to head out of the yard.
“Hey!” Don called from the back. “Sparky isn’t here!”
“Oh, my gosh,” groaned Johnny, jamming on the brake.
Bill, Don, and Mac got off the truck and whistled for Sparky. Nothing happened.
Soon all five men were out of the truck, whistling and shouting in all directions. “Have you seen a Dalmatian dog around here?” Johnny asked a fireman from another village. In the moonlight the man’s streaked face looked tired, and not a bit interested in runaway dogs.
“Sorry,” he said, shaking his head, and went right on rolling up hose.
Then the chief had an idea. He blew the siren on the Batavia truck. “That should bring him running!” But Sparky was so far away he couldn’t hear.
“We’ll have to go without him,” Johnny declared sadly. “Maybe we can come back tomorrow and look for him.”
“Tomorrow we have to go to the fire drill. Remember?” said Chief Richter. “That means that in just seven hours from now we must have all this equipment cleaned and back in shape. And we’ll have to try to get some sleep during that time too.”
It was 3:45 when the men arrived back at the fire station. Immediately they washed the hoses and hung them in the hose tower to dry. Then they placed fresh hose on the truck and checked the equipment. When 7 o’clock came they were still washing the wheels and tires of the truck.
“We’d better all get some sleep,” Chief Richter said. “The volunteers who didn’t get to the fire last night have offered to come in and finish cleaning up.”
Johnny looked sadly at the canvas hose box where Sparky usually slept.
“Cheer up. We’ll find him,” said the chief. But he didn’t sound too confident. So much could have happened during a serious fire.
After a few hours’ sleep and some work by the volunteer firemen, the full crew was ready to go to the demonstration that was scheduled. Everything was as clean again as if the round-house fire had never occurred. Johnny took his place at the wheel of the ladder truck and Chief Richter sat beside him in the cab. Don, Bill and Mac hung on behind.
“Shall I blow the truck siren, Chief, even though we aren’t in any particular hurry to get to this fire?” John asked.
“Yes, you had better sound it. People always want to know when we are coming down the road.”
Johnny made a right-angle turn out of the station, and started the wailing siren.Suddenly, before the big truck could begin to pick up speed, a black-coated animal streaked across the road and made wild leap for the fire truck! As fast as his limping feet could take him he stumbled along to a spot right behind the cab. Then he started barking furiously above the noise of the siren.
Don almost fell off the truck in surprise. “Sparky’s back!” he shouted. “At least I think it is Sparky!” The three men on the back of the truck looked at the black smudgy dog. It certainly acted like Sparky—even though it bore little resemblance to the silky clean animal that had come out of the washtub yesterday. He must have walked a long way to get home, for his paws were sore and swollen.
Chief Richter opened the door of the cab a little bit, in order to reach up and pat Sparky’s head. Sparky stopped barking long enough to give the chief’s hand a sloppy lick.
“We certainly can’t be very proud of the way you look today. But we are mighty glad to have you with us just the same,” the chief said to the dog. Then he closed the door and shouted through the window, “We’ve got our full crew. Let ‘er roll!”