The History of the Montgomery County Fire Fighters Pipes & Drums Band Inc.
In the summer of 2004, members of the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services Honor Guard were attending the annual honor guard competition held at the Maryland State Fireman’s Association Convention in Ocean City, Maryland. During that convention, the members of the FDNY and DCFD pipe bands performed jointly at the opening ceremonies. It was at that ceremony that a member of Montgomery’s Honor Guard, Lieutenant Russell Blinkhorn, recognized the need for his own fire department to form a pipe band.
At the time, the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service was growing at a rapid rate. In March of 2004, legislation was passed establishing a uniformed County Fire Chief who would have the authority to administer, direct and originate Fire and Rescue operations. There were over 1000 career firefighters and approximately 300 active volunteer firefighters operating 33 fire stations that protected a community of nearly 1 million residents. These numbers continue to rise today with new fire stations being built and additional firefighters being hired to keep up with the county’s rapidly growing population.
In October of 2004, after months of planning such a large undertaking, Lieutenant Blinkhorn sent an e-mail to every county firefighter soliciting for members that may be interested in forming a pipe band. Receiving nearly 150 replies, additional e-mails were sent to those that were interested informing them of the time and financial commitments that would be required of them. The additional e-mails would eventually lower the number to 50, due to the fact that many really did not understand the commitments necessary. The first meeting was held in late November and nearly 40 firefighters were in attendance. During that meeting, goals were set and the search for instructors began. Finding instructors to teach 40 inexperienced firefighters to play the bagpipes and drums proved to be more difficult than expected. After months of searching and many e-mail and phone calls, the search ended in January of 2005. Stuart Frazier, the Pipe Sergeant of the Frederick Scottish Pipes and Drums, had heard through rumors that the newly formed band was looking for a bagpipe instructor. After expressing interest, Stuart presented his history and experience, and the band quickly accepted Stuart as their bagpipe instructor. Anxious to begin, the first practice for the bagpipers was held late January of 2005, while the search for a drumming instructor continued. Through Stuart’s contacts, the band was again very fortunate when they acquired their current drumming instructor, Jason Hoffert. Jason is a member of the City of Washington Pipe Band, the only grade 1 pipe band on the east coast. After months of anticipation, the drummers held their first practice in April of 2005.
In desperate need of funds, the band held their first fundraiser on March 19th at Mrs. O’Leary’s Irish Pub in Gaithersburg. Many weeks worth of planning and advertising for this event really paid off for the band. During the event, it became very apparent that our fire department was supporting us in any way they could. Hundreds of firefighters and their families attended the event, participating in both live and silent auctions, raffles, and purchasing the bands first hats and t-shirts.
The band became a corporation on June 13, 2005 when the first set of by-laws were accepted by the membership during their monthly meeting. Additionally, a uniform committee was established to begin researching uniform ideas. The members wanted to choose a tartan that represented our department and the community they served. In the end, the tartan of Clan Montgomery was chosen. Clan Montgomery was contacted and fully supported the idea. The Clans crest was incorporated into our patch to further represent the name.
After 5 long months of practicing on their practice chanters, the pipers received their bagpipes on June 27th, 2005. Receiving the pipes further motivated the members, revealing how much more work they had ahead of them. After months of anticipation, the drummers finally began receiving their drums on October 19th, and joint practices were scheduled so the band would be ready to perform at their 2006 St Patrick’s Day goal.
The band continues weekly practices to this day, consisting of more than 20 truly dedicated members. The band consists of only active or retired Montgomery County firefighters, and is privileged to be one of the few fire department pipe bands to achieve such a task.