Jay Grassl *
Fallen but never forgotten
Rest now my fallen brother
Lay soft your suffering back
Rest well and forever
Your memory shall not lack
Rest your tired hands
Wipe clean your weary brow
Rest with St. Florian
Your spirit now endowed
Rest here your breaking heart
We know you gave your all
Rest easy, you’ve done your part
You’ve answered your last call
Rest knowing that in god we sought
Oh lord, watch over another who just fell
Rest assured your troubled thought
As we ring the final bell.
Other traditions in the fire service happen on a larger scale. Some of these include sending department representatives to the funeral of a firefighter lost in the line of duty in a neighboring community, in the next state, or clear across the country. It doesn’t matter whether we personally knew the person or not, its just tradition that we show our respects towards our fellow brother or sister in the fire service. These heroes paid the ultimate sacrifice of dying in the line of duty. We remember these individuals, we memorialize their lives, and thank them for their service.
Tolling of the Bell
Long before the Internet was invented, or telephones and radios were used across our great nation, fire departments used the telegraph to communicate - using special codes to receive fire alarms from those once-familiar red fire alarm boxes which stood on practically every street corner of America.
When a firefighter was killed, or in the language of the military and public safety: "fell", in the line of duty, the fire alarm office would tap out a special signal. This would be tapped out as five measured dashes - then a pause - then five measured dashes - then a pause - then five more measured dashes.
This came to be called the Tolling of the Bell and was broadcast over the telegraph fire alarm circuits to all station houses in the vicinity. Heard outside on the streets - with the fire department's windows open, the resonating echo was similar to that of fire stations of old where fire alarm gongs sounded the locations of thousands of emergencies throughout the history of our growing country.
This was done for the purpose of notification, and as a sign of honor and respect for all firefighters who had made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their communities. Such symbolism has been a time-honored fire service tradition and is repeated at each service of a fallen firefighter.
Bagpipes at Fire Department Funerals
The tradition of bagpipes being played at fire department funerals in the United States goes back over one hundred and fifty years. When the Irish and Scottish immigrated to this country, they brought many of their traditions with them. One of these was the bagpipe, often played at Celtic weddings, funerals and dances.
It wasn't until the great potato famine and massive Irish immigration to the East Coast of the United States that the tradition of the pipes really took hold in fire departments. Factories and shops had signs reading "NINA" meaning No Irish Need Apply. The only jobs they could get were the ones no one else wanted -- jobs that were dirty, dangerous or both -- firefighters and police officers. It was not an uncommon event to have several firefighters killed at a working fire. The Irish firefighters funerals were typical of all Irish funerals-the pipes were played. It was somehow okay for a hardened firefighter to cry at the sound of pipes when his dignity would not let him weep for a fallen comrade.
Those who have been to funerals when bagpipes play know how haunting and mournful the sound of the pipes can be. Before too long, families and friends of non-Irish firefighters began asking for the piper to play for these fallen heroes. The pipes add a special air and dignity to the solemn occasion.
Today, the tradition is universal and not just for the Irish or Scottish. The pipes have come to be a distinguishing feature of a fallen hero's funeral.
Excerpted from Ohio Fire Chief, July 1997
* Life Member