Felix, the Firehouse Dog

Felix, the Firehouse Dog

From Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul

Felix, the Firehouse Dog

Firefighters everywhere love telling stories—and some of their favorites are about that select group of firefighters who are on duty twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year: the firehouse dogs. One such dog, Felix, who lived in the first half of the twentieth century, remains a demigod among his firehouse brethren and stands alone as the dog that most influenced the Chicago Fire Department.

Felix was the Babe Ruth of Chicago firedogs. One of the earliest and most legendary firehouse dogs, he was a part of an elite group that went on every call, followed his crew into fires and rescued lives. This common street mongrel inspired memorials, remembrances and, eventually, television specials for more than a half century after his death. His firefighting colleagues truly considered Felix one of their own: a full-fledged Chicago fireman. The people in his neighborhood adored him as well. Loud cheers for Felix could be heard whenever Engine 25 rushed down a street.

Felix was born in 1910. How he arrived at Engine 25 will forever be in dispute. Some say Felix was among a litter of seven abandoned puppies donated to a local tavern that later gave one of the puppies to a firefighter. One woman distinctly remembers an injured dog wandering into her father’s local coal office, which later donated the dog to Engine 25. Or perhaps Felix was simply another stray dog that found his way into one of Chicago’s firehouses.

In any case, Felix grew to be a medium-sized mutt, mostly brown in color with some black-and-white patches. Although Felix served the majority of his career with horse-drawn fire engines, he later became a part of firefighting history due to a widely circulated picture taken of him in 1920 aboard one of Chicago’s first motorized pumpers. Judging by his confident stance in the photograph, Felix adapted well to the new type of apparatus. The story goes that he made every run—except one. On that day, Felix wandered too far from the firehouse to hear the alarm, and when the firefighters returned, Felix was so ashamed that he couldn’t bear to look at his comrades. It never happened again.

Like most Chicago firedogs, Felix learned the different alarm bell sounds and would board the appropriate fire rig depending on the specific signal used. As a result, Felix was always on the rig, barking before the alarm finished sounding. Once at the fire, Felix served as guard to the rig, not allowing anyone near it. As time wore on, however, he wanted to get closer to the action, and his duties greatly expanded. He learned how to climb ladders, making his way behind the firemen into the belly of the fire. Once inside, Felix shadowed the men as they worked to extinguish the flames. When the firefighters went down the ladder, Felix jumped on one of their backs, putting his front paws around the fireman’s shoulders and his back legs tucked under his arms.

At one unusually intense fire, Felix followed the men into the flames as always, but the fire quickly overcame the two hose teams and outflanked the men. Because the path they had forged with their hoses was no longer available, they had to find another way out. Felix went to work. Through the smoke and flames, he left the firefighters to look for a back entrance. After a few minutes that seemed to the men like hours, he came back barking ferociously. As one man held onto Felix’s tail, the dog led the entire team on their knees out of the building. At the end of the day, all the men owed their lives to Felix.

Felix also had an uncanny ability to know if anyone was still in a burning building, and he refused to leave the scene of an active fire if people were still inside. On one run, the men of Engine 25 extinguished a fire and believed they had evacuated the house when Felix went up to the porch door and began barking uncontrollably. After several minutes, the firefighters wondered why Felix was so focused on the house. Deciding to go back in for one more look, three firefighters followed Felix directly to one of the bedrooms. Moments later, a fireman emerged from the charred house with a screaming infant in his arms.

Stories of Felix’s valor spread far and wide. One day P .T. Barnum from Barnum & Bailey Circus came to Engine 25 to see if Felix would join the circus. With his unusual intelligence and ability to climb ladders, there was no doubt he would have done very well in the show, but there was no way the firefighters were going to let him leave.

Felix enjoyed the simple pleasures of the everyday Chicago firedog. He thrived on the attention from the local children who looked forward to giving him treats on their way home from school. Like most firedogs, Felix loved to eat, especially the liver sausage brought to him by adoring neighbors.

In 1926, Felix was the victim of an accident common to Chicago firedogs; he was struck and killed by a car at the scene of a fire. Felix’s long tour of service was recognized with the honors that the Chicago Fire Department reserves for thosewho die in the line of duty. Felixwas given awake in the firehouse, surrounded by an elaborate and expensive floral arrangement. A solid mahogany casket was donated by the owner of a local furniture company. As a sign of the great regard the workers at the company held for Felix, the casket was handcrafted with the highest workmanship: no nails were used in its production.

The entire neighborhood mourned the loss of their close friend. On the day of the funeral, all the schools in the neighborhood were closed so the children could attend the service. Six children, three boys and three girls, served as pallbearers. Tears streamed down their faces as they walked their friend to his final resting place. News media covered the event and took pictures for the newspapers. Televisions weren’t yet popular, but a newsreel showed the story in the local theaters.

Eight automobiles and over twenty firefighters traveled from the firehouse to the Palos Forest Preserve where the chief of Engine 25 had obtained a permit from the county commissioner to bury Felix. To mark his final resting spot, the men placed a granite headstone that simply reads:

Felix
No. 25. C.F.D.

There is no mention that Felix was a dog.

To this day, people still bring flowers to his grave in gratitude for his service. Felix made such a profound impact on the community that the residents coined an expression in his memory. For years, whenever they won at playing cards or a stickball game, adults and kids alike would exclaim that they had “won one for Felix.”

Today a statue of Felix stands outside the Palos Hills Library—a proud tribute to Felix and the Chicago Fire Department.

Trevor and Drew Orsinger

(Excerpted from The Firefighter’s Best Friend)

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