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The fire pole is history in Chicago

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CHICAGO — What's next, the Dalmatian?

The tradition of sliding down a pole to get to the fire engine — which legend has it was born in 19th-century Chicago — is being phased out in the Windy City as one-story fire stations replace multistory firehouses, a department spokesman said Wednesday.

"One of the most common injuries for firemen over the years is from sliding down the pole," spokesman Mike Cosgrove said. "Going down the pole too fast and hitting the cement floor, they fracture or sprain a bone or ligament."

In the late 1870s, a Chicago fire captain witnessed his men sliding down a waxed wooden pole used to transport hay from the firehouse's third-floor hayloft to the fire wagon's horses, Cosgrove said.

Noting that the crew was speeding its response time to fires by bypassing the staircases, the captain got permission to cut holes in the floors of other firehouses and install poles. Many wooden poles were later replaced with brass or steel.

Chicago's fire stations are undergoing a $10 million rebuilding plan, and some older houses are being eased into history.