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The Chief’s Desk – April 2nd

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Small, but mighty, is how I would describe our Pipes and Drums Band. I have had the privilege of listening to Firefighter Doug Copenhaver play the Bagpipes for years now. If I recall correctly, the first time I heard him was at the Celtic Kilt (I think that was the restaurant name) when Captain Jacobson and others pestered him into playing. We are a supportive bunch if nothing else.

The bagpipes are sometimes thought of as an instrument best listened to after several adult beverages. However, when you have someone play as well as Doug, the pipes sound amazing without any sound-enhancing beverages. For those unaware, Doug is a very talented musician, talented in playing a multitude of instruments and, I’m told, an accomplished vocalist as well. I’ve never been able to get him to sing, so I can neither confirm nor deny his vocal prowess.

Yes, he has the aptitude to play, but it is his commitment to honing his craft that makes him so good at what he does. It was his drive that led to the formation of our Pipes and Drums Band – and Duplessis’ desire to wear a kilt… I won’t comment further, other than to say Rob has become quite good at the bass drum.

As of today, our band consists of pipers Copenhaver, Perez, and Cunningham. On snare drum is the one and only Tom Muniz – who knew he had rhythm?? Scott Bulters was the first tenor drummer for the band, but has stepped back for now. Personally, I’m hoping for a comeback. New to the group and the tenor drum is none other than Rock’n Ross Prange. I had the chance to see Ross play at Founding Fathers on St. Patrick’s Day – he’s quite good.

While they carry the CAFMA name and represent our organization very well, they are actually a 501c3 – so donate when you can. That said, they play at all of our retirement, graduation, and promotional ceremonies as well as many of our dedications, e.g. buildings, apparatus dedications, and the Healing Fields.

They played beautifully last Saturday at the memorial for Firefighter/EMT Tye Seets. Other pipes and drums band members came from all corners of the state to create an amazing sound and tribute to Tye and his family under the direction of Pipe Major Copenhaver. I don’t know about you, but I find it hard not to tear up when the pipes sound the first notes of “Amazing Grace.”

So why are the pipes and drums an integral part of Fire Service tradition, both during celebrations and somber occasions? The tradition dates back over 170 years.

In the 1800s, Irish immigrants migrated to the east coast of America by the thousands as a result of the Great Potato Famine – a history lesson for another day. In the U.S. the Irish were the target of intense discrimination, with many shops and businesses posting signs stating “No Irish Need Apply.” Not able to find gainful employment in the business community, they turned to the more dangerous jobs no one wanted – police officer and firefighter. In the 1800s, both jobs were considered highly dangerous resulting in a high number of lives lost. I refer to them as jobs as opposed to professions because that’s how they were viewed 200 years ago.

The bagpipes were a traditional instrument at Celtic weddings, funerals, and dances for both the Irish and the Scottish. To that end, when an Irish firefighter died in the line of duty, a traditional Celtic funeral would be held to include the playing of the bagpipes. According to numerous writings regarding the history of the pipes and drums, it was not uncommon for a hardened firefighter to weep at the sound of the bagpipes honoring one of their lost. As I said earlier, when some of the first notes of “Amazing Grace” emanate from a set of pipes, the waterworks start. Now that I know it’s just a normal response, I won’t try to hold them back… As a side note, “Amazing Grace” was not adapted for the bagpipes until the 1970s.

It wasn’t long before non-Irish firefighters and their families began requesting that the pipes be played at funerals for their lost loved ones. Today, pipe and drum bands are a staple at just about every firefighter and law enforcement funeral. There may even be some overlap in bands between fire and police – almost like dogs and cats playing nice together. Obviously, in my analogy firefighters are the dogs because dogs are way cooler than cats.

There is an Irish version of the bagpipes as well as a Scottish version. I will defer to Doug on the podcast this week, but from what I can see the Scottish version of the bagpipes is preferred. The Scottish pipes are preferred because they are louder and better suited to outdoor performances, according to the literature. As for the traditional kilt, it appears they may be either Irish or Scottish. There are cultural differences between the two countries, however, it appears that at least in the United States, pipes and drums bands use a combination.

This concludes our history lesson as it relates to bagpipes and pipes and drums bands.

So, what about the procession associated with a firefighter funeral? I’m glad you asked. James Braidwood was a Scottish firefighter that established the first municipal fire department in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1824. He took over the London Fire Engine Establishment in 1833. The London Fire Engine Establishment eventually became the London Fire Brigade.

Braidwood was trained and worked as a surveyor before becoming Master of Fire Engines for Edinburgh in 1824. His training gave him the knowledge and skills needed to understand building materials and housing conditions in and around his community. Not unlike today, many of the firefighters he recruited came from the trades, e.g. slaters, carpenters, masons, and plumbers, each of whom could apply their training and expertise to firefighting. He recruited experienced mariners because they were well-versed in difficult manual labor and were sure-footed allowing them to easily work on rooftops. In 1830, Chief Braidwood wrote a book containing his original ideas regarding fire department organization, strategy, and tactics. The book was a success and the practices were adopted throughout Britain.

Chief Braidwood was killed by a falling wall at the Tooley Street Fire near the London Bridge Station in 1861. It took two days for firefighters to recover his body. His actions on that fire, as well as other large fires, had endeared him to the community he served as well as the greater fire service community. People turned out in mass for his funeral with a procession that stretched 1.5 miles behind the hearse. And that is where the large funeral procession and public gathering to pay respects to fallen firefighters was born – at least on the scale that we know today.

No drama this week, just a wee bit o’ history for you to enjoy.

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