… And the Band Plays On: America’s First Volunteer Firefighter Emerald Society Pipes And Drums Band

By Steve Grogan, Lynbrook Fire Department

In 1976, the Lynbrook Fire Department on Long Island organized the first Emerald Society in the volunteer fire service in the country.

In its first year, the membership quickly climbed to 75 members. Although most of the firefighters were of Irish heritage, some were not. The Lynbrook Fire Department Emerald Society was formed with the help and advice of both the NYPD and FDNY Emerald Societies and soon joined the United Grand Council of Emerald Societies, being only its 14th member.

Each year, Lynbrook FD’s Emerald Society marched behind their local Catholic school band in the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade. As other Nassau County firefighters learned of Lynbrook’s Society or saw the firefighters marching in NYC, many were soon asking to march with Lynbrook.

In 1983, a letter-writing campaign to each of the 71 fire departments in Nassau County began to see how much support there was for a such a county-wide organization. Some departments never responded, but those that did soon appointed delegates to the new Society.

In about 1984, John Clarke of the Williston Park Fire Department, who also supported our efforts, sat at a table in the pouring rain at the Nassau County Parade and Drill in Levittown just to sign up members. In 1985, a set of new bylaws was written and in June 1986, the Nassau County Firefighters Emerald Society was officially formed and Lynbrook’s was dissolved.

The first official meeting was held on September 30, 1986, at North Massapequa Fire Department Headquarters. There were 64 department delegates from 37 fire departments and an additional 77 members in attendance. On June 10, 1987, the Nassau County Firefighters Emerald Society was granted a Certificate of Incorporation by the State of New York.

The new Society soon had a column in the Irish Echo newspaper and the officers gave interviews on Irish radio shows, including Fordham University’s WFUV. Back then, the Society was even granted the privilege to send messages via FIRECOM to the growing membership.

With the County Society membership increasing to nearly 1,000, thoughts went next to forming a pipe band. The new Nassau County Firefighters Emerald Society Pipe Band was named “Fir Na Tine,” which means “Men of Fire” in Gaelic.

Fir Na Tine was now the first volunteer fire service pipe band in the country. After the official formation of the band, next came the hard work of learning to play. The fledging players met each week, first at Seaford, and then at Levittown’s firehouse, to receive lessons in playing the bagpipes and the drums.

By now, the society had reached a membership high of 2,443. With publicity about the Nassau County Firefighters Emerald Society in the Fire News newspaper (and even in the New York Daily News), calls were received from firefighters in Suffolk County who wanted to start their own society. Over a few meetings, and after sharing Nassau County Society bylaws with them, they formed the Suffolk County Firefighters Emerald Society. The Emeralds were also instrumental in helping Nassau County Sheriff ’s Department start their Society.

In the early to mid-’90s, the Society, and even the Pipe Band, saw a decline in membership and activities. In 1996, Tom Egan of the Long Beach Fire Department (who became the new Pipe Major) began the rebuilding of the band, player by player. Now, with the band starting all over again, their new bylaws allowed a membership of 50 percent firefighters and 50 percent civilians. As requests for entertainment increased for weddings and other events, as well as requests by many fire departments to march and perform, the pipers went out on their own and separated from the Society. It had now become a business with an administrator and a manager. Now, as a separate entity, the Pipe Band changed its name to Nassau County Firefighters Pipes and Drums.

The pipes and drums were back on the street marching in 1998 with Bobby Hughes leading the new pipers. They wore the Irish national tartan colors until 2004, when they changed to their own newly designed tartan kilts. Those new kilts have red color for the fire service; orange and blue for Nassau County; green for Irish heritage; white for the fire service officers; and black for fallen firefighters.

The Pipe Band has now become a well-established and known pipe band in New York. Their performances match those of the longtime FDNY and NYPD piper bands.

Since 2001, they have marched each year in the Savannah, Georgia, St. Patrick’s Day Parade. They have also played in Indianapolis, Indiana, and Delray Beach, Florida. In 2002, the Band played for President George W. Bush at a 9/11 Dedication Ceremony. They played for the dedication of the Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Eisenhower Park and play annually at the Nassau County Fire Museum Annual Dinner as well as the Rockville Centre St. Patrick’s Day Parade. And the band has played at halftime ceremonies for the New York Jets at least three times.

The present makeup of the band is 42 members representing 19 of the 71 departments in Nassau County. On average, 20 to 25 members march on each occasion.

The band has also donated their time to many worthy causes, such as the Fourth Battalion fundraiser to raise money for the Nassau County Firefighters Burn Center Foundation. They also played at a fundraiser for the family of ATF Special Agent John Capano, who was killed in the line of duty. They have also made appearances at numerous funerals for Nassau County firefighters killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11 and for all Line of Duty Deaths in the Nassau County fire service.

The Band has produced two albums: Nassau County Firefighters Pipes and Drums and Second Alarm. The band members also appeared in a segment of the “Impractical Jokers” TV show last year.

According to Edward Moore, the present Pipe Band President, who has been with the band since 1998, “We are looking forward to enhancing our rich history for years to come. Most of all we are focused on continuing our bands mission to proudly represent the Nassau County Fire Service and its 71 departments with the utmost professionalism and honor for years to come.”

As the Society grows, the band plays on. Beannachtai na Piele Padraig – Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Steve Grogan is a 50-year member of Tally-Ho Engine Co. No. 3 of the Lynbrook Fire Department on Long Island. He is an Ex-Captain and has been the department spokesman and writer for 34 years. He also handles publicity for the Fourth Battalion Fire District. He is co-founder of the Lynbrook Junior Fire Department and Nassau County Firefighters Emerald Society. He is a Vice Chairman and PIO for Nassau County Firefighters Operation Wounded Warrior. He is a Vietnam-era veteran who served with US Army Intelligence. He is also a former Lynbrook Village Trustee and a retired federal agent.