Patriotic sounds ring out from Mercer Island firehouse

The Eastside Firefighters pipes and drum band is one of many groups of firefighters rebuilding tradition.

“The whole thing started after 9/11,” said Don Turner, station 71 captain. “They (New York bands) were playing six to eight funerals a day and were burning out.”

The tradition of pipes and drum bands began life in the military, but Turner said firefighters began the tradition in the 19th century with Irish and Scottish immigrants coming to the United States.

“They could only get dangerous jobs such as firefighters, police or miners,” he said.

When they lost one of their own, they continued the tradition of honoring them with the pipes and drums played at funerals.

On Wednesday, they gathered at the North end Mercer Island fire station for the group’s weekly rehearsal. Turner said there are about 33 in the group; all of them weren’t there because some were on duty.

Besides the Eastside, which covers Sammamish, Issaquah, North Bend and Carnation, the band includes members from the Mercer Island, Bellevue, Fall City and Woodinville fire departments.

“Every King County fire department is covered except Seattle,” Turner said.

Seattle has its own band, which was first on the scene. Since many of those firefighters were friends with Turner, they talked him into getting a band started.

Turner said they perform about twice a month, either at parades, fundraisers or funerals.

For only being together for a little over a year, they sound and look really good.

“They do it for the tradition of the firefighting service,” Turner said. “A couple of them were naturals. The bagpipes are a difficult instrument to learn.”

The band is a 501(c3) organization funded solely by donations. Considering that a set of bagpipes cost around $2,500, they need all the help they can get.

It is not required that a member is either Irish or Scottish to play in the band. In fact, only a few acknowledged their Irish or Scottish heritage when asked for a show of hands.

The Northwest Firefighters Pipe Band Association encompasses Canada, Washington, Idaho and Oregon, and now consists of about 17 bands, all sprung up since Sept. 11.

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