Bagpipes at Firefighter Funeral Services
Rendering of fire departmental honors demonstrates gratitude to those who have served and protected their communities. This ceremonial paying of respect is the final
demonstration that can be provided to the firefighters' families.
Firefighter funerals are quite similar to those of the military. Honors are usually applied to those killed in the line of duty and those retired from the fire service.
Description of Honors...
Protocols differ slightly from community to community and are completely subject to the family's wishes. Generally what can be expected for a line-of-duty death (LODD) is a
large firefighter presence at the service, as well as the graveside ceremony. Many will probably be from bordering states, though I have witnessed firefighters from as far away
as Canada attend LODD funerals in Memphis. As a result, arrangements for the funeral service usually take place at a church or facility large enough to accommodate the number
For retirees, there is usually a smaller contingent of firefighters, though many departments provide full honors depending on their protocols.
A line-up of numerous fire departmental apparatus is usually arranged in front of the church accomodating the funeral service. For a LODD, almost always, two ladder trucks will
extend and cross their ladders across the main entrance to form an arch. A US flag is often draped between the crossed ladders.
Special considerations are provided the fallen firefighter's immediate colleagues.
Much of the funeral details are handled by an Honor Guard. The Guard is responsible for co-ordinating and directing activities, the Casket Watch, flag bearers, pallbearers,
rifle salute, bugler, bagpipes, and flag folding and presentation.
A Casket Watch is staffed by uniformed firefighters and is often comprised of firefighters from their Honor Guard. The Watch takes place from the arrival of the deceased
firefighter's casket until the end of the funeral service. Two uniformed firefighters position themselves at opposite ends of the casket. The Watch is divided into shifts of
At the funeral servicess end, a command is given by the Honor Guard commander. That is a signal for me to starting piping. Usually I lead the casket out, followed by the Honor
Guard, from the church to the awaiting hearse. Almost always this is the only piping performed during the funeral service, though I have piped-in the Honor Guard before at the
beginning of the service.
For a LODD, the procession to the cemetery is lengthy. It can be comprised of hundreds of vehicles.
The Colors are brought to graveside and usually preceded by the piper performing an appropriate tune. When the graveside service is ready to proceed, it won’t be lengthy. By
this time, hours will have elapsed since the initial service began. Typically this portion will be no different than a civilian service of the same faith. After the officiant
has finished, the following occur: a rifle salute, playing of TAPS, flag folding/presentation, and final bagpipes performance, Amazing Grace being the most requested.
Unique to the fire service is the Bell Ceremony. It is conducted at graveside and can be the last detail performed prior to the piper. Throughout most of history, the life of a
firefighter has been closely associated with the ringing of a bell. As he began his tour of duty, it was the bell that started the shift. Each alarm was sounded by a bell,
which called him to duty and to place his life in jeopardy for the good of his fellow man. And when the call had ended, and the alarm was completed, it was the bell that rang
three times to signal the end. Again, this may vary somewhat from department to department.
Typically, the bell is struck solemnly three times followed by a pause, three times followed by a pause and three times in memory of and in tribute to his life and service.
Protocols for some fire departments dictate the sounding of a single siren upon completion of the bell ringing. Afterwards, a radio broadcast is made, stating that the
firefighter has answered his last alarm.
When duty call's me, oh Lord,
Wherever Flames may rage,
Give me the strength to save some life
Whatever be its age.
Help me embrace a little child
Before it is too late.
Or save an older person from
The horror of that fate.
I want to fill my calling and
To give the best in me,
To guard my every neighbor
And protect their property.
And if according to thy will,
That I must give my life,
Then with thy protecting hand, my Lord,
I pray thee, protect my children and my wife.