EAST VILLAGE — Whatever happened to the Dalmatian?
The East Village's Engine 28/Ladder 11 firehouse is home to an unusual pet that has slithered its way into the firefighters' hearts — a 7-foot red-tip boa constrictor.
Known as either "Sprinkles" or simply "Snake," the firehouse mascot can often be found flung over the shoulders of one of the firefighters or showing off its scales for a group of visiting schoolchildren.
"I think it is a good thing because the kids from around this area, they don't normally get to see stuff like that and they have it right in their neighborhood," said Oscar Martinez, 40, a truck driver who has lived in the East Village for three years.
He said he has frequently seen the firefighters out on the sidewalk in front of the East Second Street and Avenue B firehouse, allowing curious kids and adventurous adults to pet the friendly reptile.
"I have patted its scales," Martinez added, "really smooth, nice and soft."
Firefighters with Engine 28/Ladder 11 said they got their current snake about three years ago. It was a replacement for a pet snake that a firefighter had brought to the firehouse several years earlier, but took with him when he left.
The low-key animal spends much of his time sleeping in a heated tank and only eats one rat every three months, said the firefighters, who declined to be quoted directly after an FDNY administrator barred them from speaking about their slithery pet.
The FDNY did not immediately comment on whether firefighters are allowed to keep a snake in a firehouse.
Like many East Village residents, Emma Graham, a 23-year-old journalist, has had numerous encounters with the snake.
"One time I was headed out to dinner, in high heels, all dressed up and I have a photo of me holding the snake," she said of the surprisingly heavy reptile with scales that form dark diamonds against a beige background.
The firehouse is not the only one in the city to have dabbled in keeping exotic pets, according to Damon Campagna, the executive director of the New York City Fire Museum.
"There have been all sorts of animals like dogs, cats and even monkeys," he said. The most famous was Jenny, a beloved monkey from the early 1900s that helped prevent her Mott Street firehouse from burning down, according to a New York Tribune article.
"It [firehouse pets] goes back to the earliest days of the volunteer department," he said. "They have been a tradition for centuries."
While some earlier pets like Dalmatians had a role in firefighting, most firehouse pets nowadays are just mascots, Campagna said. During the days of the horse-drawn carts, the presence of the Dalmatians had a calming effect on the horses, he said.
Another source with knowledge of the FDNY said fish, turtles, lizards, iguanas, parrots and cats have all made their home in firehouses throughout the city.
For Blue Bayer, a jewelry designer whose workshop is across from the East Second Street firehouse, the snake has a role as a community liaison.
"These displays of openness can go a long way in building bridges between the community and the firehouse," he said.
While the firemen take time to introduce local kids to the snake, Bayer has also seen them respond instantly to any call for help. One day, four of the firefighters tackled a purse-snatcher right against the front door of his workshop, Bayer said.
"It goes beyond a pet snake," he said. "They are always ready for anything."