The History of the Pierce County Firefighters Pipes & Drums
Written by Michael Ray (foundng member)
I had always enjoyed the depth and power that the Pipes have when played. In 2006 I attended FDIC (Fire Department Instructor's Conference) in Indianapolis. While there I attended the massed bands parade and other events while at the conference. I made a promise to myself to someday learn to play the Bagpipes even though I had no past musical training. The next year, John Corak attended FDIC and was deeply moved by the same power of the Pipes and Drums bands that I had experienced. John being a drummer for years was in an Irish pub when one of the bands played through. After the band had finished, John noticed there was a side drum sitting on the ground. He asked one of the drummers if he could play along with them and they graciously allowed John to play. John was doing quite well until the pipers started to play and was humbled by the difficulty of playing with bagpipes. John bowed out and the party continued on, inspiring John to further his interest with the Pipes and Drums. After these experiences John and I made it a goal to make a band into a reality. After John returned from FDIC the two of us started to have conservations about a band and the passion for the dream of creating a band developed into a reality.
In 2007 the quest officially started. I sought out an instructor by surfing the internet and found an instructor in the local area. Once I was able to nail down a time to meet the instructor I put out an email to our members in Graham Fire & Rescue. 3 members heard the call of the pipes and started instruction under our first instructor, Bill Micenko of the Tacoma Scots. After a month of playing and learning the intricacies of the Pipes I put the word out to my local as well as other locals in Pierce County. The band started to grow into the “Founding 9 Members” of the Pierce County Firefighters Pipes and Drums band. The found 9 are Michael Ray, John Corak, Tony Judd, Dan Bamford, Sonnia Marken, Steve Tank, Art Doss, Scott Powers & Brice Johnston. By the end of 2007 we had 4 fire departments in Pierce County represented and multiple other members of departments in the Puget Sound Area started showing interest of joining. During this time frame we had been approached by Aaron Weeks who works for South King Fire & Rescue, if we were open to allowing firefighters from other counties to join. It was an easy deci- sion. Even though our home base is in Pierce County we decided not to limit our camaraderie to the borders of our county. We decided as a band to open up to any professional firefighter in the South Puget Sound region that wished to join up. By the fall of 2008 we had doubled in size totaling 20 members, representing 2 counties and 7 fire departments.
The founding members of the band decided early on that the musical development and professional image of the band was a priority. Luckily the band had a strong instructor in the drum corp. because of the experience of our Drum Corporal Aaron Weeks. However, the same couldn’t be said about our bagpipe instruction. After growing in size as well as discipline the band made a decision to hire a new Bagpipe instructor due to creative differences with our first instructor. We searched the local area and interviewed 3 well known instructors in the Puget Sound region. In March of 2009 the band officially hired our current bagpipe instructor Jeremy Shilley. Jeremy was well aware of our goal to debut in the summer of 2009 and put us on an aggressive plan to accomplish our goal. So along with hiring Jeremy we were fortunate to bring on a longtime student of Jeremy’s and an accomplished piper in Jimmy Hendryx. Jimmy is a Bremerton Firefighter and has been playing the pipes since 2005. Jimmy had formerly played in the Peninsula Pipe Band and brought a wealth of experience to the band. With this experience he was asked if he was interested in leading this motley crew as our Pipe Major. In August 2009 under the direction of Pipe Major Jimmy Hendryx the Pierce County Firefighter’s Pipes & Drums debuted at the opening ceremonies of the “Pile up in Puyallup”.
Since that time we as a band had what I call a bit of trial by fire. We were one of multiple bands that paid respects to our fallen brothers and sisters in arms during that dark time in Pierce County history. Prior to the memorials we had joined up with other fire department pipe bands in the northwest to form the Northwest Fire Pipe Band Association. Through this organization we were extremely fortunate to draw from the experience and expertise of our brothers in the other bands. The Pierce County Firefighter’s Pipes & Drums band is proud to be members of this proud organization. Currently the band has 42 members that represent 3 Counties and 15 fire departments. Every April and October the band opens its membership to interested parties who are willing to dedicate their time to this time honored and well deserving tradition of the fire service. If you would like to know more about the relationship of the Bagpipes and the Fire Service please read on.
The Band Motto—”Ne Oublie”
The first motto that we looked at was the Graham Clan's. Since the original idea of the band was thought up by firefighters from Graham Fire it just seemed natural. After learning what the translation was of the gaelic term, “Ne Oublie”. We stopped looking immediately. "Ne Oublie" translates to “Never Forget”, and it is our way of stating that we will never forget those that have gone before us. We are also very honored that the Graham Clan gave us permission to use there crest as our bands official crest. Band members proudly display the crest as their official hat badge.
History of Bagpipes in the Fire Service
The tradition of bagpipes played at fire department and police department funerals in the United States goes back over one hundred fifty years. When the Irish and Scottish immigrated to this country, they brought many of their traditions with them. One of these was the Great Highland Bagpipe, often played at Celtic weddings, funerals and ceilis (dances).
It wasn't until the great potato famine and massive Irish immigration to the East Coast of the United States that the tradition of the bagpipes really took hold in the fire department. In the 1800's, Irish immi- grants faced massive discrimination. Factories and shops had signs reading "NINA" - No Irish Need Apply. The only jobs they could get were the ones no one else wanted - jobs that were dirty, dangerous, or both - firefighters and police officers. It was not an uncommon event to have several firefighters killed at a working fire. The Irish firefighters' funerals were typical of all Irish funerals - the pipes were played. It was somehow okay for a hardened firefighter to cry at the sound of bagpipes when his dignity would not let him weep for a fallen comrade.
Those who have attended a funeral where bagpipes were played know how haunting and mournful the sound of the pipes can be. The most famous song played at fire and police funerals is Amazing Grace. It wasn't too long before families and friends of non-Irish firefighters began asking for the bagpipes to be played for fallen heroes. The bagpipes add a special air and dignity to this solemn occasion.
Bagpipe bands represent both fire and police often have more than 60 uniformed playing members. They are also traditionally known as Emerald Societies after Ireland - the Emerald Isle. Many bands wear traditional Scottish dress while others wear the simpler Irish uniform. All members wear the kilt and tunic, whether it is a Scottish clan tartan or Irish single color kilt.
Today, the tradition is universal and not just for the Irish or Scottish. The bagpipes have become a distin-
guishing feature of a fallen brother or sister's funeral.
Our Tartan’s Definition
The red background of the tartan represents fire and
the fire trucks;
The black is in remembrance of those who have already made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty;
The green and gold represent the Irish community
which has such strong ties with the organization and
occupation of fire fighting;
And lastly, the three red lines in the middle of each
square are: 3 red threads, 4 red threads, and 3 red
threads – representing the 343 FDNY firefighters who
lost their lives on 9/11/2001 – the largest amount of fire
fighters who ever perished in a single day in the history
of the United States.
Page Last Updated: May 05, 2015 (09:07:41)