Oh Danny-boy, the Pipes, the Pipes are Calling

SFMD Firefighter awarded in affiliation with bagpipe competition; local Honor Guard receives new uniforms, steeped in tradition

By Dana Trumbull

Recently, the Phoenix Pipe Band, Grade 3, was the Overall Winner among the seven bands competing in the 55th Annual Phoenix Scottish Games, as well as taking first place finishes in both of the sectional events and first and second place finishes in the Grade 5 (entry level) sectionals. Superstition Fire & Medical District (SFMD) Firefighter Geof Shively is the Vice-President of the Phoenix Pipe Band and Pipe Sergeant for the Pipe Band, Grade 5.

Shively is also Pipe Major for the Superstition Fire and Medical District (SFMD) Honor Guard Pipes and Drums, an all-volunteer auxiliary to the SFMD. “For me, competition really helps perfect my skills so that my performance for the Honor Guard is just that much deeper.”

 New Uniforms for Local SFMD Pipers

Locally, the SFMD Pipe Band is celebrating a different kind of win: the members – all career firefighters with SFMD – have finally received the new uniforms that they have been planning for more than five years. The tartan was designed by Piper Nat Erickson, who also created the band’s logo.

SFMD paid to register the tartan with the national tartan registry of Scotland. The fabric was woven in Scotland and shipped here. Len Wood, a local kilt maker, who also instructs in piping and is active in the Phoenix Pipe Band, created the uniforms. “Our uniform is very traditional,” Shively elaborated. “Each of the colors in the tartan has meaning.” It was important to the team to reflect both the deep traditions of the fire service and the proud history and bond with the community served.

“When our last fire chief, Paul Bourgeois was here, he was very involved with the Local Assistance State Team (LAST). The state’s LAST team goes out any time there’s a line-of-duty death in the fire service, and they help the family organize all of their needs.

“One of the services provided by LAST is the pipe and drum honor guard at the funeral. Because of his involvement there, Bourgeois saw the power that fire service pipes and drums have in those times, so he came back to SFMD and sought to start a band here.” Bourgeois knew that Erickson played pipes, and together, they formed a team that has been building ever since. “Only Nat played back then. The rest of us learned it for this,” adds Shively.

LAST acts as a coordinating agency. If a fire department needs additional pipers for an honor guard or for an event such as a parade, LAST sends an email to the 200-300 fire service pipers statewide. “Whoever is available will show up. It’s pretty impressive,” said Shively.

The SFMD Pipe Band’s highest mission is to “honor tradition by paying respect to the fire service’s fallen heroes,” but they are often seen around town performing for community events, such as the annual Apache Junction Police Department awards ceremony, the AJ Food Bank’s annual fundraiser and the Apache Junction Veterans Tribute. “Pretty much anytime the community reaches out to us, we’ll play, if schedules allow… Although,” he added, “it can be quite a challenge to get everyone together.”

The members of the SFMD Pipe Band are all firefighters – mostly working C shift, but spread out between different stations. Members are: Nat Erickson, Colt Weddell, Carlos Rivera and Geof Shively.

There are several others who are learning to play, as well, but, “It’s a long process to get someone ‘up’ on bagpipes. They start on a practice chanter, and are on that for about a year, before they are ready to buy a set of pipes. Then, it’s about another year before they can step into the circle and play. It really has to be a passion.”

That passion, however, goes beyond the music. “It’s one of the deepest traditions that the American fire service has,”related Shively. “You’ve got to go back to the founding of our country and the start of the fire service in this country, when it was a really dirty, gritty job, and it was incredibly dangerous. It wasn’t uncommon to lose one or two firefighters when a blaze would kick out. Nobody wanted that job.

“At the time, it was nearly impossible for Scottish and Irish immigrants to find work; there was a lot of prejudice against the Celtic nationalities. But the fire service had open arms and took them in, and they brought their traditions with them, including bagpipes.

“So, when they lost a firefighter, at the funeral, they would play bagpipes. According to legend, that’s when they would allow themselves to cry – to feel the sorrow for their lost brother. That’s the roots of the bagpipes in the fire service.”

If you would like to embrace the Celtic culture by learning to play bagpipes, contact the Phoenix Pipe Band: www.phoenixpipeband.com/.

To contact the SFMD Pipe Band, call 480-982-4440 or email: geof.shively@sfmd.az.gov. #WeAreAJ

SFMD Tartan Meaning

Black: Sacrifice
Red: Courage
Blue: Family
Gold: Pride
White: Goodness and Light

The tartan we wear was the winning tartan that our band decided on after a small internal contest to create several tartan versions. Care was taken to choose a tartan to represent our organization, the roots of the American fire service, and tie us to the community we serve.

BlackThe highest calling for a fire service pipe band is to be called to pipe for one of our fallen heroes.  The black in our tartan is to remind us of the void our fallen brothers and sisters have left behind and honor their sacrifice.

RedRepresents a firefighter’s courage to face any situation when called to duty.

Blue Behind every firefighter is a family. Our family is made up of our blood relatives, spouses, kids and loved ones, along with our giant public safety family. When you look at our uniform, you may notice the beautiful blue lines running both vertically and horizontally across the front apron kilts. These blue lines create large squares that help anchor all of the other colors in our kilt. The deep pleats that shape the backside of our kilts help change the tartans design to create a dramatic blue wall. This blue wall is symbolic to the way that the fire service/public safety family has each other’s back.

GoldWhen we talk about gold in the fire service, some people may think of a firefighters heart of “gold” or the gold standard we strive for when serving our community; however, ask anyone in the fire service about gold and you will find that we think about beautiful, shiny brass! In the old days of the fire service, fire companies would routinely polish all of the brass on their trucks to get ready for a friendly competition.  The goal was to be recognized by the community by literally outshining the neighboring stations. For the SFMD pipe band the color gold represents pride.

White The white thread in our kilt is a quiet, subtle reminder that as fire service professionals we serve as unofficial role models and always need to strive to be a positive light in our community.

It is no simple coincidence that our tartan and many of our uniform’s details contain the colors black and gold. We set out to design a tartan that represented our organization and the fire services traditions, but also tie us closer to the community we serve. The gold we wear is tied deeply to Jacob Waltz and the lure of the Superstition Mountains that make such an iconic and recognizable backdrop for our community. Lastly, if you know anything about Apache Junction, when you see black and gold, you cant help but say, “Go Prospectors!”

Photo above: The SFMD Honor Guard Pipes and Drums members are: Back row, L-R – Geof Shively, Colt Weddell, Nat Erickson. Front: Carlos Rivera – Photo Credit: Dan McKinney

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