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Fire Dogs

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The following story is from Lev Tolstoy’s First Russian Reader of 1875. This is my translation. As far as I know it has never before appeared in English.

Fire Dogs
A True Story

It often happens that when there is a fire in a city that children remain in the house and it is impossible to pull them out because they hide in fright and do not make a sound while the smoke makes it impossible to see them. In London they train dogs for this purpose. These dogs live with the firemen and when a house catches fire the firemen send the dogs to pull the children out. One such dog in London has saved twelve children. He is called Bob.

Once a house caught fire and when the firemen arrived at the house a woman ran out to meet them. She was weaping and saying that a two-year-old little maiden remained in the house. The firemen sent Bob. Bob ran up the stair/ladder and disappeared in the smoke. Five minutes later he ran out of the house and in his teeth he bore the little maid by her shirt. The mother threw herself upon her daughter and wept with joy that her daughter was alive. The firemen petted the dog and examined him to make sure he was not singed, but Bob strove vigorously to reenter the house. The firemen thought that there must still be something alive in the house and let him go. The dog ran into the house and soon came out with something in his teeth. When the people were able to see what it was the he carried all laughed heartily for he carried a large doll.

(You can read the original in Russian at

This story is still in wide circulation in the Russian-speaking world. It is the subject children’s picture books and a number of amateur videos on Youtube. One of the Illustrations

I wonder whether the London Fire Bridage is aware that one of its members is so immortalized.

I have found some references to rescue dogs with the London Fire Brigate. For example from Aunt Judy’s Christmas Volume for Young People published in London in 1867:

Everybody has heard of Bob, the fireman’s dog, who joined the brigade of his own accord, who barked before the engines to clear the way, who had a nose for a fire like another dog for a rabbit, and who, amongst other exploits, on one occasion, showed his full comprehension of his duties as a fireman, by dashing into a burning house, and, at the risk of his own life, saving that of a cat. Bob emerged from all that smoke and fire behind him, singed and blackened, but carrying in his mouth his rescued cat. He also saved the life of a child, by his persistence in scratching and whining at the door of a room in a burning house, which was supposed to be empty; but Bob knew better, and never gave up till he got the door opened, and the child, who was found lying insensible on the floor, was carried away to safety. Bob wore to the day of his death a broad brass collar with an inscription in his own honor. He appeared on the platform at one or two public meetings of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and when his time came and that fatal engine crushed him to death, he died mourned by the men of his own corps as a dear friend and true hero.

While the incident described by Tolstoy is not mentioned, the description of Bob’s activities is similar and the time is about right.

I have found one other mention of Bob the Fire Dog with the London Fire Brigade. It is from St. Nicholas: An Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks which was published in New York in 1920. It reads:

Bob, the English Fire Dog
Everybody in London, and throughout England for that matter, is proud of Bob, the famous fire dog, whose keen instincts have been the means of saving more than a dozen lives in different fires. It takes but a few moments for Bob to hop up a ladder, leap through a broken window-pane, scurry throught the corridors and rooms, barking and searching for the inmates, and then scurry out again by way of the window and the ladder. On one occasion he found a little child asleep underneath a bed, and by his barking he let the firemen know that their help was urgently needed. On another occasion he discovered an old woman too feeble to walk. Bob is a daring little fellow and does not hesitate to leap from even the fourth story of a building into the life-net. Whenever a fire-alarm comes in at the station, he always responds and is among the first to arrive on the scene of action.
George F. Paul

This article is accompanied by a photograph captioned “Bob Hopping up a Ladder”. The credit “Photograph by Alfrieri” probably refers to Alfrieri Pictures Services, an organization which seems to have been active during the early part of the 20th century in London. Presumably this is a photograph of a different dog also named Bob.

I hope someday to find the original source for Tolstoy’s story to better understand how a dog from London became a stable of Russian children’s literature.

Written by David Chappell

January 3rd, 2018 at 4:24 pm

Posted in liturature,russian

One Response to 'Fire Dogs'

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  1. Fascinating look into the history of dogs and firehouses. You always hear about the stereotypical dalmatian in the firehouse so it is interesting to hear about an actual relationship between dogs and firemen working together.

    It reminds me of an article we did not long ago where the tables were turned and the firemen rescued a trapped puppy ( Perhaps he’ll grow up to be like his hero Bob the Fire Dog. 🙂


    8 Aug 19 at 10:19 am

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