An old newspaper clipping of yesteryear refers to a dog by the name of Boss who was mascot of the Johnson City Fire Department between 1928 and 1936.
According to the article, Boss became so excited at the prospect of going to a fire that he would occasionally fall off the truck, continuing the journey on paw if he could keep up the pace. Sometimes the canine would “hitchhike” to the fire by turning around and around in the middle of the street until someone stopped and offered him a ride. Everybody knew Boss. Allegedly, the animal used his teeth to help firemen pull hose. The remarkable mutt could ascend a 50-foot ladder and return by coming down the ladder headfirst. The firemen’s best friend routinely trotted from Headquarters Station 3 at E. Main to old Station 4 at 238 W. Market, stopping at various meat markets in the downtown area for tasty morsels from the butchers.
The article alleges that the animal’s final resting place is at Station 3. Chief Paul Greene confirmed that Boss is buried on the east side of the facility at the end of a flagstone walk directly under a small white granite bench monument that bears his name. The chief referred me for further information to department historian, Mike Sagers. Mike’s familiarity and collection of material about this vital department’s colorful history was most impressive.
This column is limited to our discussion about Boss; additional information will be presented in future columns. Mike explained: “Boss is the only mascot that we know of in the history of the fire department since it began operation in 1891. He would either jump on the running board of the chief’s car or ride on the truck with the firemen to a fire.” The animal was not a Dalmatian, the dog most readily identified with fire departments. Sagers continued: “Boss was a pit bull, but he was mixed, having short dark spotty black hair and cropped tail. He was particular friendly to kids, but being of that breed, he had his own character.”
Mike added: “Some of the old timers recalled that Boss would grab a fireman’s pants and pull him away from the fire if he wasn’t properly dressed with coat and helmet.” Sagers described one of Boss’s favorite businesses: “Employees at a small grocery store (probably Samuel Wheelock Grocery) near the Johnson City Press would serve him ice cream on a metal bench outside the store.
“On one occasion, some mischievous boys ran a wire from a nearby power box to the bench and shocked Boss while he was eating. Afterwards, whenever he got within sight of the store, he crossed over to the other side of the street to avoid going by it. One of the few photos of Boss shows him in his familiar stance on top of the fire truck, wearing what appears to be a Maltese cross (symbol of Christian warriors) badge attached to his collar.”
The fireman acknowledged that Boss died in 1936 when he was eight years old: “He was shot and killed by an unknown assailant,” said Mike. “I believe it was when he was either going to or coming from a fire.” The fire crew, distraught over the loss of their faithful four-legged companion, preserved and kept him at the main station. After a few months, he was buried at the same location that had been his home and work.
Today, the little white granite bench at headquarters is a lasting memorial to the beloved mascot that once ruled the Johnson City Fire Department.