“Oh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling.” —Danny Boy, an Irish ballad
It’s not hard to find a pipes and drums band in New York City (NYC). The police department has one. So does the sanitation department and the corrections department. Of course, there’s the Fire Department of New York’s (FDNY) Emerald Society Pipes and Drums Band, made up of city firefighters. So why did the FDNY EMS bureau want to establish a band?”ž
“It’s a question of pride,” says John Manning, FDNY EMT and Drum Major for the FDNY EMS Pipes and Drums Band. “We wanted to bring morale up through the ranks,” he says.
EMS pipes and drums bands are beyond rare, Manning says. Until FDNY launched its band, the only one in the country was in Boston, he noted.
Manning and fellow FDNY EMT Don Riley came up with the idea two years ago while playing in other bands. They invited EMTs and paramedics who also played in various local bands to join them, and, soon after, the FDNY EMS Pipes and Drums Band was formed.”ž
Once they announced the band was accepting new members, the response was overwhelming, says Manning. Thirty-five band members from throughout the city and 10 EMS students played in the first parade. All band members are either part of the FDNY EMS bureau or related to a member in good standing.
In January 2006, the department officially recognized the band. Later that spring, in what was the group’s first official department function, the FDNY EMS Pipes and Drums Band played at Shea Stadium for a game between the New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies during EMS Week. The Mets won 5à4, Manning proudly points out.
Manning and Riley set high standards for the band. Members are expected to practice for up to an hour a day, and the entire group meets to practice every Tuesday night at the FDNY EMS Training Academy at Fort Totten Park.
Members are offered free bagpipe lessons from Robert Hanley, a retired pipe major for the NYC Department of Corrections Band. “We’ve come a long way with him as an instructor,” Manning says. Local music instructor Robert Costigan teaches the drummers.
To differentiate themselves from the FDNY firefighter’s band, the EMS group picked distinctive colors for their kilts — navy blue to represent EMS command, red for FDNY and a white stripe to show respect for the chiefs, Manning explained.
The band provides the uniform, including a tunic, kilt and bonnet, although outfitting everyone is an expensive project that has taken some time. The cost of a single uniform is approximately $2,000. Fortunately, the band receives support from Local Union 2507, which represents the uniformed EMTs, paramedics and fire inspectors of the FDNY. They helped the band by donating the first 10 kilts. “We are especially grateful to President Patrick Bahnken and the executive board members of the Local 2507 for their extreme generosity and continued support,” Manning says.
Belonging to the band is a labor of love that requires both time and money. Every piper must provide their own bagpipes. Band members must also supply their own accessories, such as shoes, spats and belts.
When the band isn’t playing or practicing, they’re fundraising. One of their biggest fundraising events is an annual affair held Sept. 17 called the “Half Way to St. Paddy’s Day Celebration.” The first year it was held, the band raised $10,000, allowing them to purchase five new snare drums and a base drum. Money was also used to emblazon the group’s logo on the base drum.
The band prides itself on being self-sufficient. “We are a registered charitable organization,” Manning says. T-shirts are available on the band’s Web site. The band also accepts private and corporate”ždonations.
Corporate sponsors, such as Total Fire Group, ZOLL, Anheuser-Busch, Masimo and Pintchik Paints, help offset some of the ongoing expenses. Each company receives special recognition on the band’s Web site.
Since it was founded, the band has settled into a core group of 25à30 members. It takes that many to accommodate the numerous requests for weddings, funerals, parades, birthdays and receptions, while still allowing band members to keep family commitments. “In the month of March alone, we play two to four parades per weekend,” Manning says.
So far, Manning says, the band has mastered 10 songs. They’ve played at a basketball game in Madison Square Garden and kicked off the EMS Today Conference and Exposition in Baltimore, Md., in 2007 and 2008. The band will entertain the audiences and exhibit hall attendees again at EMS Today in March 2009 for the third year in a row
Of course, the holy grail of events for any pipes and drums band is the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York. That event caused a bit of controversy for the band when parade organizers told the FDNY EMS Pipes and Drums Band they wouldn’t be allowed to march because the fire department’s firefighter band was already participating. After much discussion, it was decided that the EMS band would also be allowed to march.
The FDNY EMS Pipes and Drums Band doesn’t limit itself to New York. When they heard about an ambulance accident in Antwerp, Ohio, that killed three EMTs, the band drove all night to play a the funerals. Last May, they played at the National EMS Memorial service in Roanoke, Va.
Manning says the EMS band is on friendly terms with the FDNY firefighter’s band. “They have been very supportive,” he says. The police band also helped Manning navigate some of the challenges of getting a band started. “It’s just like the EMS community,” he says. “It’s one big, happy family.”
Eventually, the band would like to participate in competitions. In the meantime, they play every chance they get. “My goal is for us to march every year in the [NYC] St. Paddy’s Day Parade, then get on a plane that day and fly to Dublin and participate in the Dublin parade,” Manning says.
The mission of the FDNY EMS Pipes and Drums Band is simple. “Long term, we want to be one of the best municipal bands,” Manning says. But he’s quick to point out the band’s main mission: “We are out to make our department proud.”
To learn more about the FDNY EMS Pipes and Drums Band, go to”žwww.fdnyemspipesanddrums.com.
To watch a video of the FDNY EMS Pipes and Drums Band playing in the 2008 EMS Today exhibit hall,click here.