By Barbara PashApril 28, 2011
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. - Rookie is gone but not forgotten. On a brisk Friday morning, about two dozen people gathered outside the Fort Meade Fire and Emergency Services to pay tribute to a mascot so beloved that more than one attendee had tears in their eyes.
Capt. John Trottman, Fire Prevention Captain at the Fort Meade Fire Department at the Directorate of Emergency Services, led the memorial that included the unveiling of -- fittingly enough -- a circa 1930s fire hydant in front of the building at 6619 Mapes Road.
"I was his main caregiver," Trottman said of Rookie, a Dalmatian that came into his life one December as a two-month old puppy.
"And he acted like it," Trottman continued. "He ate all of the glass ornaments off [the lower part of] our Christmas tree. How he didn't cut his mouth, I don't know."
Rookie was born on Oct. 10, 2001, and died on Feb. 6, 2011, of congestive heart failure at the age of nine, which is just within the average 9- to 12-year lifespan of that breed. The white with black-spotted dog came from a Dalmatian breeder on base, who called and offered a dog from a then-recent litter.
Rookie was not the fire department's first mascot. That honor went to Captain Rusty Buck, a Retriever mix that served from 1994 to 2002. There is talk of getting another mascot but it's too soon for that, said Trottman.
Dalmatians' traditional association with fire engines dates to an earlier, pre-internal combustion era, according to Trottman, who has researched the subject. In England, back when fire engines were pulled by horses, the Dalmatian was fast enough and sturdy enough to run by the sides of the horses as they raced to a fire.
When he reached adulthood, Rookie lived at the fire station where he had his own bed and his own chair and, apparently, the run of the place. "He figured out how to open the doors," Trottman said, by pulling down the levered handles.
Rookie's adventures were many. He was a "notorious, if unsuccessful, groundhog hunter even though he would sit by the pond for hours," Trottman remembered. One day, just as the company was sitting down to a spaghetti dinner, they were called to a fire. When they returned, Rookie greeted them, covered in spaghetti sauce.
"His head was all red. At first we thought he was hurt," said Trottman, until the crew filed into the kitchen and found "totally clean plates" thanks to Rookie.
"He loved to eat. He loved chasing sticks. His favorite activity was sleeping in his chair," said Trottman. "If Rookie had a motto, it would be, Enjoy life!"
As Rookie aged, he no longer accompanied the crew to fires. Instead, he went to schools and installation events like Family Fun Day, where many people got to know, and pet, him.
"He was probably the most photographed dog in the Army," said Trottman. "He always had kids around him."
The Fort Meade Fire Department is a professional fire department that is staffed by full-career DoD civilian employees. Of the 43 firefighters and five prevention staff, 14 live at the station at any one time in order to run two engines and one ladder on a daily basis, said Capt. Dave Biddle.
Chief Jeff Clark said the station seems empty without Rookie. "I'm a dog person," said Clark, who owns a yellow Lab. "Rookie was always around. It seems weird that he's not here."
But the fire hydrant dedicated in his memory will be a reminder. The crew found it about five years ago, laying by the side of the road in an isolated area of the installation.
"It's probably an old base hydrant," Trottman speculated, and had been sitting in the station's yard until the idea occured for a better use.
Maryland American Water sandblasted off the rust and painted it a shiny red with black trim. Draped around the hydrant is the the commander's coin awarded to Rookie for accompanying the firefighters to a 2007 fire on the base that they battled for 17 hours.
"When he was younger, he went on calls with us," said Clark. "As he got older, it was ceremonial."