Honouring fallen comrades circumvents borders.
A group of Strathcona County firefighters recently took a trip to the U.S. to attend the 33rd IAFF Fallen Firefighter Memorial Service, which saw another 200 members from across North America added to a memorial wall who died in the line of duty this year.
The annual ceremony in late September, which happens in the shadow of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs, honours the sacrifice made and provides an uplifting service for the families, friends and loved ones who lost someone. Thomas said he was one of two members of the Strathcona Firefighters Pipes and Drums band that attended this year, along with two members of the firefighter honour guard and two members from the district.
“This was the first time I had been, as well as the other member of the Pipes and Drums. It was an incredible experience and was very humbling and it was an honour to take part in something like that,” Iain Thomas, president of Strathcona Firefighters Pipes and Drums Association. “Every year it is a large congregation that honours any firefighter in North America that have died in the line of duty and includes injuries sustained on the job as well as job-related illness or injuries.”
Thomas said it is important to honour those who gave their lives in the line of duty and not forget their sacrifice. He added having this opportunity was very special to him and he said it was an incredible experience.
“Individuals from all over the country getting together for one common reason and commemorating and remembering those who have passed away and supporting each other,” he said. “All of the families of these members who died in the line of duty are invited down as well to partake in the ceremonies and being able to perform for them was an incredible experience.”
The firefighter and musician said it was a lot of work to be ready for the performance because they wanted it to be perfect. He said Friday was a full day of rehearsal for the band and the honour guard to prepare and practice the ceremony.
Thomas plays the bagpipes and only recently started. He said he hasn’t even been playing for a full year yet and hopes he did a good job at the ceremony in Colorado.
“I play the bagpipes and I started playing in January,” he said. “The band started last October and we officially started lessons and practicing in January and we’ve been progressing since then.”
Bagpipes and drums have been associated with firefighters and police departments for around 170 years, as many early police and fire departments were made up of immigrants of Irish or Scottish decent. Thomas said bagpipes and drums are played at Celtic wakes and that tradition is now engrained in most emergency services departments in North America.
Thomas said he is happy he is part of the long tradition and is honoured to have taken part in such an important service to honour his fallen comrades.
There were a total of 1,100 honour guard members and pipe and drum members who took part in the annual event this year. David Moog, part of the Strathcona Emergency Services Honour Guard, was selected as a member of the Canadian Flag Team at the memorial, which was responsible for raising and lowering the flags.