NEAR WEST SIDE — You could say that Freckles the Firehouse Dog is a local celebrity.
He has his own website, a Twitter account and a Facebook fan page. He’s hung out with the cast of "Chicago Fire," and is rumored to be the inspiration for the dog on the show.
He’s appeared on WCIU’s dog-centric promos declaring, “This is Freckles. He likes ‘Seinfeld’ on the U.” Tour groups come by to see him. And passersby stop to take his picture on a daily basis.
“He knows he’s the big guy on the block,” said John Hermann, 38, Engine 103's engineer, who serves as Freckles' spokesman. “He is the most well-known fire dog.”
Of course, Freckles is a Dalmatian. He has made his home at the Engine 103 firehouse, 25 S. Laflin St., for more than eight years.
“A neighbor couldn’t keep him and brought him in as a puppy. He asked if we wanted to take him. Of course we did,” Hermann said.
What sets Freckles apart is that he lives at the firehouse full-time, unlike other dogs who go home with their firefighter owners at the end of their shift. Freckles belongs to the neighborhood.
“He’s a popular character in the neighborhood. Everyone knows him. He truly brings a smile to everyone’s face,” said Karen Pollack, a retired nurse who takes Freckles on two walks a day.
“The firemen can’t take him on walks because they can’t leave the house. And I think if they’re having a bad day, they can come back and see Freckles and feel better.”
Pollack shares Freckles-walking responsibilities with two other women. She says she’ll often take him to PetSmart, a dog park or to her own house for some peace because there is always noise at the firehouse.
And when the 1926 firehouse gets too hot in the summer, neighbors will often bring Freckles to their own air-conditioned homes to cool off.
“It’s a nice cozy firehouse. The neighbors like us. We like the neighbors,” Hermann said.
Because Freckles doesn’t have an official owner, the firefighters sell T-shirts to raise money for his veterinary care. They’re available for $15 at the Engine 103 firehouse and will also be available at the Taste of Randolph festival June 14-16, where Freckles will be making celebrity appearances. Money raised from the T-shirt sales also benefits charities such as Ignite the Spirit.
Despite his celebrity status, Freckles has responsibilities at the firehouse. Every morning he retrieves newspapers from the sidewalk and will often wait outside for the delivery driver to appear. Firefighters say he gets upset if someone else brings the papers inside, so they’ll have to put them outside again for Freckles to perform his duty.
Freckles also serves as an auxiliary fire alarm.
“When the alarm goes off, he’ll actually bark and follow the engine out to the door. Then, he’ll keep barking until the door closes all the way,” Hermann said. “He protects the house until we get back.”