The City of Orlando Fire Department has always been a traditional organization. Since its inception in 1885, OFD has continued to be a progressive and aggressive fire department, with the idea of always keeping the traditions of the fire service.
In 2005, a handful of dedicated members of OFD decided that the addition of a Bagpipe and Drum band was much needed in the department. This band’s main goal was to add a sense of dignity and pride to department ceremonies, funerals and parades.
The history of the bagpipes and drums in the fire service goes back to over a century and a half ago. In 1845, the Great Potato Famine in Ireland sparked perhaps the greatest immigration to the United States from Ireland . The Irish came into the US in great numbers, and they were looked upon as second-class citizens, not having the opportunity to work in factories and shops that had jobs available. Many of these employers had signs in their buildings reading “NINA”, or No Irish Need Apply. The only jobs that these new Americans could get were the ones that nobody wanted, the dangerous and dirty jobs of Firemen and Cops. Line of Duty deaths were more common back then, and the Irish funerals had the bagpipes played at them. It was this tradition that became adopted at any firefighter or police funeral. The bagpipes and drums soon were used in different department events such as Medal Day, anniversaries and family outings.
This history started in our nation in the Northeast and Midwest areas of the US . There are people that have been lucky enough to experience a fire department pipes and drums band playing for such events as FDNY’s Medal day, or the Fire Department Instructor’s Conference (FDIC) in Indianapolis , or event the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Boston . There are no words that can describe the feeling one gets when they hear the pipes an drums playing, one swells up with pride and honor, and the love for our vocation is felt on a deeper level. Unfortunately, many traditions that are enjoyed in New York , Boston and Chicago , are almost non-existent in Florida . Wanting to keep with the traditions and heritage of the Orlando Fire Department, it was felt that the next step for our department is to form our own Pipes and Drums organization.
In the summer of 2005, 10 members of the Orlando Fire Department made the commitment to put together a bagpipe and drums band. At this point in time, OFD only had one member that played the pipes, that was District Chief Mark Austin who had 9 years of playing under his belt. These 10 members made a pact that they would play their first gig in 2005, the 120th anniversary of the Orlando Fire Department. The 2005 Citrus Bowl Parade was the targeted event that would become our first ever gig. With this event agreed upon, the Orlando Firefighters Pipes and Drums (OFP&D) were formed.
The practices were intense, members purchased practice chanters, and eventually bagpipes, and luckily enough 3 members of the band had previous high school snare drumming experience. Through months of practicing under the tutelage of OPD officer Pete Linnenkamp, a bagpipe player (the only one from OPD) for 12 years, the pipers were learning the tunes, and the drummers were learning the new highland method of drumming. Bagpipe legend Jaime Holton, a world-renowned musician who has formed his own Celtic Rock band “Off Kilter” decided to throw in a helping hand. With Jaime’s help, the members of the OFP&D learned how to march and play at the same time. With the help from the Law Enforcement Emerald Society of Central Florida (LEESCF) bagpipers, the Citrus Bowl Parade was looking like it might be a successful venture.
After months of practicing, endless hours at the firehouse and at home of practicing on the pipes and the drums, and the hideous sounds that our families (both at home and the firehouse) had to endure, the big day finally arrived. On December 30, 2005, the Citrus Bowl Parade proved to be an excellent event. Members of the OFP&D, with help from pipers from LEESCF, Tampa Firefighters Pipes and drums, Rosie O’ Grady’s Highlanders, and pipers and drummers around the area, our debut gig was a huge success. The pipes and drums marched in with uniformed members of the City of Orlando Fire Department , and the reception that was received was incredible.
The original members of the OFP&D that marched in that historical first gig were, Pipers: Scott Hammond, D/C Mark Austin, Walt Lewis, Mike Stallings, Drummers: Al Castanon (Bass), Matt Negedly , Jason Revoldt, Derek Schaumann (Snares).
The OFP&D made Florida Firefighter Pipes and Drums history when they hosted the first ever Florida Firefighters Pipes and Drums Roll Call during the Orlando Fire Conference. On February 25, 2006 in downtown Orlando , the gathering of these bands for the first time ever took place. All Florida Firefighter Pipes and Drums bands made an appearance at this event, and formed one large mass band parade that was well received by all that attended the event.
The members of the OFP&D are a very young band that is learning more from every gig that we play and every practice that we have. We would like to thank all of those people that have helped us evolve into what we are today. From fellow bagpipers and drummers from the LEESCF, Rosie O’Grady’s Highlanders, Tampa Bay Fire Pipes and Drums, Palm Beach County Fire Rescue Pipes and Drums, and the City of Melbourne Pipe Band , we thank all of you that have helped us, and continue to help us in our endeavor.