Lion the Fire Dog by Benjamin Clarke

LION, who was a cross between a Great St. Bernard and a Newfoundland dog, came into the possession of the superintendent of the London fire brigade when he was but twelve months old. His first retreat was in the engine-house, where, on some old hose and sacking, he made himself as comfortable as he could, and coiled himself up, like the tubing on which he lay. Considering that he was thus placed in charge of the engine-house, he resented the first occasion on which a fire occurred at night. The fire bell rang, and the firemen crowded to the spot, prepared to draw forth the engine, when a decided opposition was made on the part of Lion, who showed a determination to fasten himself on the first fireman who dared to enter the house. In this way the faithful dog kept them all at bay until the arrival of his master, whom he instantly recognized and obeyed. As soon as the horses were harnessed, and the engine was in motion, Lion bounded along in company, and was present at his first fire. After that time, he attended no less  than three hundred and thirty-two fires, and not only attended, but assisted at them, always useful, and sometimes doing work and saving life, which, but for him, would have been lost.

His chief friends, the firemen, say it would take a long while to tell all his acts of daring and sagacity; but we must, in justice to his memory, record some of the most notable.

Whenever the fire bell rang, Lion was immediately on the alert, barking loudly, as if to spread the dire alarm. Then, as soon as his master had taken his place on the engine, and before the horses were off, he led the way, clearing the road and warning every one of the approach of the engine, and spreading the news of the fire by his loud voice.

On one occasion, when the horses were tearing along the streets as fire engine horses alone can, a little child was seen just in front of the engine. To stop the horses in time was impossible, though the driver did his best. The brave hearts of the firemen sank within them as they felt they must drive over the little body. Bystanders raised their arms and shrieked as they witnessed an impending catastrophe which they could do nothing to avert. No human help could avail, and it must needs be that the engine of mercy, on its way to save life, must sacrifice the life of an innocent, helpless child!

But stay! Human eyes were not the only ones that took in that sad scene, and that saw the impending doom of the little one. Brave, sagacious, and fleet, Lion saw at a glance the danger that threatened the child, and springing forward, he knocked him down; then seizing him firmly in his jaws, he made for the pavement obliquely, and gently deposited his charge in the gutter just as the engine went tearing by.

But this was only an incident by the way; Lion’s real work began when the scene of the fire was reached. As soon as the door was opened, or dashing through the window if there was a delay in opening the door, the noble animal would run all over the burning house, barking, so as to arouse the inmates if they were unaware of the danger; and never would he leave the fire until he had either aroused them or had drawn the attention of the firemen to them.

Once the firemen could not account for his conduct. Darting into the burning house,—the ceilings of which had given way,—and then out again to the firemen, he howled and yelled most loudly. It was believed that no one was in the house, but Lion’s conduct made his master feel uneasy.

Still nothing could be done by way of entering the house, as the fire was raging fiercely, and the house would soon fall in. Finding that his entreaties were not regarded, and suffering from burns and injuries, the noble animal discontinued his efforts, but ran uneasily round the engine, howling in a piteous manner; nor would he leave the spot after the fire was put out until search was made, when beneath the still smouldering embers, the firemen discovered the charred body of an old man, whom he had done his utmost to save.

Lion’s noble efforts, however, were often crowned with success; and many a one has to bless the wondrous qualities with which God had endowed him.

At one fire, after the inmates had made their escape, a cry was raised that “the baby had been left behind in the cradle up stairs,” though no one seemed to be able to indicate the room. The fire had so far got hold of the dwelling, such dense volumes of flame and smoke were issuing from every opening, that it was impossible for any fireman to enter, and the crowd stood horror-stricken at the thought of the perishing babe.

 The crisis was a terrible one; an effort was made, an entry was effected, and some of the men ventured some distance within the burning pile, only to retrace their steps.

At this emergency, Lion dashed past the men, disappeared amid the flames, but returned in a minute into the street with the empty cradle in his powerful jaws. The consequence of this almost incredible feat—which was witnessed by many—may be better imagined than described.

The fact that Lion did not re-enter the house—which, though badly burned, he would doubtless have done had he left the child behind—was sufficient to convince the dullest intellect that the child was secure; and it was very soon ascertained that the object of search was safe in a neighboring house.

No wonder, then, that this noble animal endeared himself to all who knew him; and those who knew him best loved him the most. For fourteen years Lion continued his noble and useful career as public benefactor, as friend and companion to the firemen, and as mourner at their graves; for he attended the funerals of no less than eleven of them.

Death came to him at length; for last year he died from injuries received in the discharge of his self-imposed duties.

There are few of our readers who would not have liked to pat that brave old dog; there are fewer still who may not learn useful and valuable lessons from the speaking testimony of that dumb animal.