The five words in the title of this article empower a huge tradition in the fire service. These words which are spoken with distinction, pride and a voice of significant authority are the beginning of a sound that one cannot mistake. This sound can be heard from great distances echoing through the open air or in between buildings. The sound that is produced from three drones and a chanter are eerie to someone who is listening for the first time; But for those who have heard them more than once know this is the sound of many traditions.
Pipe and drum bands in the fire service have a long history that dates back to 1962 though the bagpipes in the fire service go back to the 1800s.
NC Brotherhood Pipes and Drums performs during the 2012 South Atlantic Fire Expo parade.
Bagpipes were being played at all the funerals of Irish firefighters [in the 1800s]. The sounds of the bagpipes at these funerals were haunting and gave a sense of weeping. Anyone who has attended a funeral with the bagpipes being played cannot verbally explain the sadness and bone chilling feelings of this instrument.
Irish immigrants have played a large role in major US city fire departments to include Boston, Chicago and New York. When the Irish came to America looking for a better future the availability of work and discrimination led them to limited opportunities. Irish immigrants started working in public service as firefighters or police officers. These jobs were dangerous, dirty and sometimes crooked. These were the jobs no one else wanted but the Irish did not care. All they wanted to do is work and make a better life for their families and themselves. As you can imagine these professions during the late 1800s were very dangerous. Fires were burning out of control and crime was at its highest. These fires that were burning out of control along with limited use of water, lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and the lack of training led to many firefighter deaths. A lot of these deaths were from Irish descendants.
The Irish are very traditional in their ways to include funerals. Bagpipes were being played at all the funerals of Irish firefighters. The sounds of the bagpipes at these funerals were haunting and gave a sense of weeping. Anyone who has attended a funeral with the bagpipes being played cannot verbally explain the sadness and bone chilling feelings of this instrument.
Pipe and drum bands derived in the fire service through firefighter Emerald Societies. These societies were created as organizations within the fire service for members of Irish descent. The first fire department pipe and drum band in the United States was organized in 1962 by the City of New York fire department. This year will be the band’s 50th anniversary. Other Emerald Societies later followed in New York’s foot steps in creating their own pipe and drum bands. These bands played at fallen firefighter funerals, weddings of firefighters, fire department functions and parades for St. Patrick’s Day. The big turning point for fire department pipe and drum bands was the event of 9/11 — a tragic and weeping day for first responders. This horrific event opened the eyes of many fire departments across the country as the entire country wept with tears as firefighters and police officers were laid to rest. Burials were being conducted on a daily basis for months after 9/11 and the pipes and drums could be heard at every one of them. Fire departments across the country realized the significance of the pipes and drums at these funerals. Departments wanted to make sure when the time comes when they had a line of duty death that they can bury them with the same respect and honor. In the State of North Carolina alone there are several fire departments or public safety pipe and drum bands that have been organized since the events of 9/11. Eastern Carolina Firefighters Pipes and Drums, Charlotte Fire Department Pipes and Drums, Morrisville Fire Department Pipes and Drums, Grenville Fire Department Pipes and Drums and Wake and District Public Safety Pipes and Drums to name a few. All these bands through their music represent the ultimate sacrifice of our brother and sisters who have perished in the line of duty. These bands are made up of firefighters from those individual departments.
Fire departments that support pipe and drum bands have taken on a difficult and an expensive service. On average the cost to outfit one piper with a set of pipes and uniform is $2,500 per person. The process of learning the pipes is also very time consuming. A new piper would not be ready to perform with the band for at least one year as this is a very difficult instrument to learn. It takes several years for a new organized band to increase membership and to be able to play in unison; but once it all comes together it is something that is indescribable. The brotherhood in itself is remarkable. One of the most awarding things in my fire service career have been being a member of a fire department pipe and drum band. To dedicate your life to a fire department pipe and drum band means spending many hours practicing and traveling to perform at different events representing the fire service. To dedicate this time, your love for the fire service and what it represents is unquestionable by anyone.
In 2011 two fire department pipe and drum bands in North Carolina formed together to play at the 2011 South Atlantic Fire Rescue Expo (SAFRE). The two bands performed several times during this three-day event and it was very successful. As these two bands played and formed an unforgettable bond they became as one under the new name NC Brotherhood Pipes and Drums. This collaboration of these two bands represented the true firefighting brotherhood in North Carolina. In 2012 the NC brotherhood grew to include several members from other pipe and drum bands throughout the state. It still amazes me how this all came together and there is only one answer — Brotherhood.
If you would like more information or to participate as a member of the NC Brotherhood Pipes and Drums during the 2013 South Atlantic Fire Expo please contact Pipe Major Adam Snyder at [email protected]. We would love for you to join the brotherhood of the fire service.
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