SD Firefighters Honor 9/11 Victims Through Music
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Aired 9/8/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.
in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, firefighters and first responders from San Diego and all across the country joined in solidarity with the forces in New York and Washington. That solidarity continues during 10th anniversary remembrances when the drums and pipes of the San Diego Firefighters Emerald Society will be heard aboard the USS Midway and a memorial to the first responders who died on 9/11 will be unveiled at Fire Station 21 in Pacific Beach.
The drone of bagpipes became the soundtrack of tributes to fallen heroes in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Firefighters and first responders all across the country joined in solidarity with the forces in New York and Washington. Back then, the San Diego Emerald Society was brand new, but on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, their drums and pipes will be heard aboard the USS Midway to honor the memory of those lost in the attacks.
In addition, a memorial to the first responders who died on 9-11 will be unveiled at Fire Station 21 in Pacific Beach tomorrow.
Ron Allison, pipe major, San Diego Firefighters Emerald Society Pipe and Drum Band
CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. The drone of bagpipes became the sound track of tributes to fallen heroes in the aftermath of the 911 attacks. Firefighters and first responders all across the country joined in solidarity with the forces in New York and Washington. Back then, the San Diego emerald society was brand-new, but on the tenth anniversary of 911, their drums and pipes will be heard aboard the USS midway to honor the memory of those lost in the attacks, it's a pleasure to welcome my guest. Ron Allison is a retired San Diego pipe fighter, and pipe major of the San Diego Firefighters Emerald Society Pipe and Drum Band. Hi, Ron.
ALLISON: How are you?
CAVANAUGH: Thank you for coming in. Tell us about the formation of the emerald society pipe and drum band here in San Diego. What did it start?
ALLISON: It really started after a group of San Diego firefighters went back to New York shortly after September 11th to go to funerals and help out their brothers in New York. And my son was one of those. He's a San Diego fireman. And they went back and when they come back they were impressed by the over all ceremonies and the bagpipes. And we didn't have anything in San Diego like that. So I work for the city of Coronado, retired from Coronado, and we had gone back also to go to funerals, and so early January, I believe, my son called me and said how would you like to play the bagpipes? And that's how I started this, and that's how the emerald society started up. We decided we need something like that in San Diego.
CAVANAUGH: I'm going to ask you how difficult it is to learn how to play the bag pipes in a minute. But going back to nobody, making those trips, what was that like?
ALLISON: It was an incredible experience. It's one of those things in my career, it's probably a highlight of it. We were back because bee had raised money for the fallen firefighters. So we went back to give the fire department our donations and to go to the funeral. So it was an amazing time to see how it brought the fire service together in this country. In the past there was the east coast west coast thing. But that brought everybody, and as we attended the services, there were firefighters from all over the country in Canada that were there. So that was pretty impressive, and I think that's -- stuck with the fire service since then. That's the silver lining in all of this tragedy.
CAVANAUGH: Before I ask you more question, let's hear a number. You and some fellow band members recorded here at the KPBS studio several days ago. And this selection is called return to cammara.
(Audio Recording Played.
CAVANAUGH: That's return to cammra, performed by the San Diego emerald society pipe and drum band. And the pipe major of that society is with me right now, Ron Allison. Okay, so how difficult is it to leadership how to play the bag pipes?
ALLISON: Well, pretty difficult. At least I found it. I started playing at 50 when all this started. Then of I don't have much of a musical background. As a matter of fact, none of us had. It's one of those instruments that takes probably sings months to a year just to learn the embellishment and notes on a chanter. Then you pick up the bagpipes and start learning how to play those. And that's a totally different animal. You learn to pat your forehead and rub your belly kind of thing. Then you learn the tunes and for most of us, we weren't familiar with the tunes. At least I wasn't. So it's not like you listen to rock and roll songs or music that you're familiar with. For us, it was new. And none of us knew how to play the bagpipes or the drums in that style. So that's -- it's pretty -- it's an endeavor, you're always learning to play. Of it's been tough for us. But you know, we persevere.
CAVANAUGH: How much do you practice each day?
ALLISON: I try to at least get in a half-hour each day to learn new tunes and keep -- get better at the abilities that I have.
CAVANAUGH: Now, you are going to be -- you and the entire emerald society pipe and drum band are going to be playing on the midway museum this Sunday for their tenth memorial of 911, their memorial service.
ALLISON: That's correct.
CAVANAUGH: What kind of emotions do you expect that's going to bring up for you?
ALLISON: We've been doing it for a while now. Excuse me. They do this every year. But this is ten-year, a special event. It's always an emotional event for me. I always remember the guys, we went to their funerals back east. I'm going to get up and read some of the names. It's always an emotional event.
CAVANAUGH: Now you said --
ALLISON: And it's an honor to do.
CAVANAUGH: You said that in a way that this tragedy has united first responders, firefighters across the nation in what way?
ALLISON: I think in our training and how we look at each other. It's a tighter brother hood, sister hood than it used to be. It used to be east coast versus west coast kind of a -- you know, just a rivalry kind of a thing. And now it's really brought us together in our training, and I think it's made us a better service in the United States.
CAVANAUGH: Do you think that this has changed the way that firefighters think of their jobs in terms of the larger society?
ALLISON: For me it did. It really opened it up. The whole event I remember watching when the south tower fell, and the first thing I fought was there's a lot of firefighters that just died. And there for the grace of God go I. And I think everybody that watched that felt that. You know? So all of a sudden -- I think just that emotion that we all had kind of opened our eyes and made us look in and then start looking outward to be a better service.
CAVANAUGH: And start playing the bagpipes.
CAVANAUGH: I want tell everybody once again, the San Diego emerald society pipe and drum band will perform during the 911 memorial service on the USS midway museum this Sunday. It starts at two. I've been speaking with Ron Allison, pipe major of the San Diego emerald society. Thank you very much.
ALLISON: You're welcome.
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