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Latrobe Pipes and Drums Band honors fallen firefighters

| Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Members of the Latrobe Pipes and Drums pose for a photo during the National Fallen Firefighterts Memorial Weekend in Emmitsburg, Md. The group, begun in 2008, raised more than $10,000 to be able to purchase new Class A uniforms and travel in October to the prestigious event, which annually honors each firefighter killed in the line of duty.Submitted

Before founding the Latrobe Pipes and Drums Band in 2009, bagpipers Ken Miller and Chuck McDowell were driving for more than two hours to practice with other bands.

Now the pair has sparked enough interest that the local band is not only thriving, it's been recognized nationally.

The band helped memorialize 81 fallen firefighters in Emmitsburg, Md., recently during the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend.

With the music from the pipes and the pounding of the drums, the band members had earned their chance to offer condolences and express their dedication to the fire service.

“It's really an honor, and it's really something,” McDowell said.

They performed patriotic tunes as well as “Scotland the Brave” and “Amazing Grace” during a Saturday evening candlelight vigil, then again at a Sunday morning memorial service.

“A lot of the families, you just can't look at them because you start crying yourself. It's sad to see the kids, 7, 8 years old, who lost their dad,” McDowell said.

Now with about 25 members and 11 students, the band has appeared at local events and in parades, such as the Fort Ligonier Days parade and the Pittsburgh St. Patrick's Day parade, as well as fire conventions, winning first place for the past four years at the state convention.

With the group's trophies on display at City Hall, fire department President Tony Arbore said the band's recognition helps uplift the whole community.

“It's good for the band. It's good for the fire department and the community itself,” he said. “It's a great addition to our fire department, I'm glad we have it.”

In order to attend the memorial weekend, the band had to march in “Class A” uniforms, including formal jackets, kilts and spats to cover their shoes.

Because of the $7,000 it took to fundraise for the uniforms and the $3,000 the group needed to travel to the festivities just south of Gettysburg in Maryland, McDowell said the group had to hold off attendance for a year.

“All's we had was white short-sleeve shirts,” he said. “We really want to thank the people that got us there. ... They were right there with us because if they wouldn't have donated money, we wouldn't have made it.”

Neighboring fire departments in Marguerite, Crabtree, Pleasant Unity, Jeannette and Strawpump as well as Ligonier Volunteer Hose Company No. 1 donated, along with the Westmoreland Horsemen's Association, Lloydsville Ladies Auxiliary, state Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, and the Committee for Kopas.

Because the band attended the memorial weekend, it was inducted into the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Band and can be called on, if able, to perform at any fallen firefighter's funeral or memorial across the country.

“It recognizes the band across the United States,” Miller said. “It's like the fire department — you have friends for the rest of your life.”

The band offers free lessons to members interested in joining, and there have been a number of new pipers learning the ways of the Scottish wind instrument.

The group practices indoors on Sundays in Latrobe Fire Department Company No. 5's hall and outdoors at Company No. 1.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or