Bagpipes and Firefighting
Once a week members of the Arvada Firefighters Pipes and Drums band get together to practice. Many of the members of the Arvada Firefighters Pipes and Drums band are also members of the Emerald Society Pipes and Drums Band, part of the fraternal group Emerald Society established for police and firefighters of Irish decent. Leading both of these groups is Arvada Fire’s own Ben Ackerman as the Pipe Major. Through the Emerald Society band Arvada Fire firefighters perform weekly whether it be for a benefit dinner, line of duty deaths, or public safety retiree funerals. In addition to collaborating with police through the Emerald Society, Arvada Firefighters Pipes and Drums band also have their own performances. You may have seen them leading off the Harvest Festival parade. They also perform for graduations and events held by the District such as promotional events and the annual awards dinner.
10 years ago come April the Arvada Firefighters Pipes and Drums band was founded through financial support from the district and after a lot of research and effort by Ben Ackerman. Since 2012 the band has been self-sufficient. Each firefighter who wants to become a member of the band deducts $10 out of their paycheck each week to help fund uniforms, travel, instruments and lessons for new members. Some of the band members had previous musical experience but many are new and have developed their skills while being a member. Even once the band members have established proficiency with their instrument their continuing education doesn’t stop there. Every year a few members will attend a conference. This January members attended the Pipes and Drums event called Winter Storm in Kansas City.
All of this connection between pipes and drums to firefighters and police officers makes one wonder where did this Irish connection to public safety come from in the first place?
The tradition of bagpipes played at fire department and police department funerals in the United States goes back over one hundred and fifty years. When the Irish and Scottish immigrated to this country, they brought many traditions with them. One of these was the bagpipe, often played at Celtic weddings, funerals and ceilis (dances).
The great potato famine and massive Irish immigration to the East Coast of the United States really kicked off the tradition of bagpipes being connected to the fire department. In the mid-1800's, Irish immigrants faced widespread discrimination to the point that signs were posted reading “NINA”- No Irish Need Apply. They could only get the dirty and dangerous jobs that no one else wanted, which meant a lot of them became firefighters and police officers. Back than it was not uncommon for several firefighters to die while fighting a fire. As was the Irish tradition, Irish firefighter’s funerals were accompanied by the playing of the pipes. If you have been to a funeral before that has the bagpipes played I’m sure you can relate to that deep mournful sound that really brings some formality, pride and respect to the event, not to mention some additional tears.