Snohomish County firefighters perform at memorial for fallen

It took three years of practice, but members of the Snohomish County Firefighters Pipes and Drums band finally made it to their dream stage.

The band formed in 2007 with aspirations of performing at the annual International Association of Fire FightersFallen Fire Fighter Memorial in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Earlier this month, six of them packed up their instruments and made the trip, said Chris Stablein, a pipe major and firefighter with Snohomish County Fire District 7. He was joined by four firefighters from District 7 and one from the Everett Fire Department.

Back in 2007, none of them knew how to play the bagpipes or Scottish drums, Stablein said.

“It just took time to learn our instruments, get organized, get equipment, get uniforms,” he said.

They made it into town for the memorial late on Sept. 9, said Darby Hepper, firefighter with District 7 and base drummer in the band.

The next day, they practiced for about six hours before playing in the streets of Colorado Springs that night, alongside all the other bands in an informal rehearsal.

“That was just kind of line up in an alley and go for it,” Hepper said. “Just seeing that many bands get together, and in one day be all in tune and all in step, it was spectacular.”

The band didn’t have to learn any new songs for the event — they’d been practicing the set list for years.

“That’s really what it makes it easier to come together on that day,” Stablein said. “It was a great experience. It was a sense of accomplishment for all of us in the band.”

The drum scores were a little different, but the band caught up fast, Hepper said.

For their special day, the band members donned traditional pipes and drum attire, including kilts, dress shirts and sporrans.

About 130 firefighters’ names were added to the tribute wall this year, Stablein said. Bands poured in from all over the U.S. and Canada to play.

Stablein’s favorite part was meeting with the families of the fallen firefighters, including the family of David Jacobs, a Seattle Fire Department battalion chief who died from duty-related health problems.

“It’s a fairly emotional event,” Stablein said. “When you see them, to put a name and face to it, it makes it pretty special.”

The Snohomish County band joined Seattle firefighters as they formed a memorial circle in honor of Jacobs, swapping their stories and memories of him.

It was touching, but a bit overwhelming for the tough-guy firefighters, Hepper said.

“After that, you felt like you knew that family your whole life, and that’s what the fire service is all about,” he said.

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