Firefighter brings Dalmatian to Cassville firefighting team
Halli to teach children how to ‘Stop, Drop and Roll’
At future public education or fire prevention events, school children and other passersby may see spots on a Cassville Fire Protection District truck — the spots of a Dalmatian.
Two-year-old Halli, a special Dalmatian who belongs to Cassville Firefighter Shannon Wenkel, has unofficially joined the fire protection team.
“She really draws attention,” Wenkel said. “She goes to public events with us.”
Halli is named after the Halligan bar firefighters use for forcible entry into a building, and she’s the first Dalmatian to join the Cassville firefighters.
From a distance, she may appear black and white, but she is a liver-spotted Dalmatian, which is a rare, chocolate coloring resulting from a recessive gene.
“Instead of the traditional black-and-white spots, she is brown-and-white,” Wenkel said. “Dalmatians usually come in black-and-white, liver or lemon. She came from a litter of 11 and was the only liver-spotted one.”
Halli isn’t on call 24-7 like the firefighters, and even though she stays home, she is literally ready to roll when called upon to show children and others how to stay safe in a fire situation.
“We’ve used her with ‘Stop, Drop and Roll’ presentations,” Wenkel said. “Kids thought it was cool for a dog to teach them how to stop, drop and roll. She loves children. When we go on events, she rides the fire truck with us and she enjoys it.”
Wenkel, who has been a firefighter since 2010, joined the Cassville firefighting team in August. When she told Assistant Fire Chief Derek Acheson about Halli, he was all for bringing her to events, Wenkel said.
“Shannon mentioned she had Halli, and I was pretty excited,” said Acheson. “Everyone has really likes having Halli around.”
The Cassville Fire Department is the first in the area to have a Dalmatian dog that he is aware of. Historically, Dalmatians were a carriage dog, Wenkel explained, with roots tracing back to Croatia and its region of Dalmatia.
“Their primary purpose was they ran in pairs or trios alongside the horses, protecting them from other animals or people,” Wenkel said. “Most of the time, they stayed in the barn with the horses. So when the fire department had horse-drawn fire apparatus, they would use Dalmatians. As those apparatus became motorized, they didn’t have to use them, but they would still ride on the truck because of their protective ability.”
“It’s pretty neat getting back to the heritage of the fire department, especially this day and age, and just going back to the tradition where people read back on the history of how the Dalmatians kept the horses together,” Acheson said.
Later, Dalmatians became the official mascot of fire departments everywhere, and, to this day, even though the dogs are rarely seen riding on the big red trucks, when people think of Dalmatians, they think of the fire department, Wenkel said.
“I was a firefighter for about three or four years before I decided to get her,” Wenkel said. “I thought it would be cool to use her for public education, plus you don’t see Dalmatians [anymore]. A lot of times when she was younger, I would socialize her in public, and a lot of people would say, ‘I’ve never seen a Dalmatian in person.’”
The department plans to take Halli to public relations events, schools and fire safety presentations, where Halli can help teach children about fire safety. One event where Halli will be kept especially busy is fire safety week in October.
“That’s when we’ll really get some interaction with the kids,” Acheson said. “I enjoy working with the kids, so I’m pretty excited to see how Halli and the kids will interact.”
Wenkel, who is also an EMT and is working on obtaining an associate’s degree in fire science from OTC, became a firefighter through an unexpected chain of events. While attending College of the Ozarks, she and a roommate decided to go rock climbing after dark off The Pointe, a steep, rocky cliff along the White River.
“I got hurt, and my punishment, instead of being expelled, was to train with the campus firefighters for a semester and then write a paper about it,” she said.
What administration meant for her punishment literally backfired, as the assignment evolved into a career and passion for Wenkel.
“The Dean of Students didn’t think I’d like it, but I loved it and stayed on with them another semester before going to OTC,” she said. “Once you start, it’s just an addiction, you can’t stop. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
As for Halli, she’s living the life.
“She’s spoiled rotten,” Wenkel said. “Her favorite food is a McDonald’s cheeseburger and an ice cream cone. That’s her reward for being a good dog.”
The department is tentatively planning to do some public relations activities with Halli this summer, where Halli will be spot on not only with promoting fire safety, but with anyone who meets her, too.