The history of the Utah Firefighters Emerald Society began when several members of the Unified Fire Authority got together to take their love of bagpipes and turn it into one of the first organized firefighter pipe and drum bands in the State of Utah. Shortly after the formation of UFA’s band, membership quickly grew and interest came from members of other local area fire departments. To allow for other departments to be recognized within its ranks, a new non-profit organization was created in the fall of 2014 which allowed for all firefighters and friends of firefighters throughout the state to join. This group became known as the Utah Firefighters Emerald Society.
The use of bagpipes within the fire service is enmeshed with a rich but somber history. During the early and mid-1800’s when the first professional fire departments came into being, the job of a firefighter was seen as being a lowly profession. Also at the time, the United States saw a large influx of Celtic immigrants from what is now the U.K. and Ireland. These immigrants (particularly the Irish) were also seen as lowly and found it very difficult to find work. Because of this, many of them gravitated toward the jobs that nobody else wanted— primarily firefighting.
The mortality rates within these early departments was quite high. When a person would die in the line of duty there was no money for any kind of elaborate funeral to honor them. In fact, the only service that could often be afforded was a priest to pray at graveside. Those in attendance at the graveside service often consisted of only the fallen firefighter’s crew members, as many of these immigrants came to America leaving their families behind. These crew members would put together whatever they could to honor their fallen brother and if music was to be played at the funeral, they were responsible to provide it. Because the music the firefighters at the time knew stemmed from their heritage and homelands it more often than not came in the form of bagpipes.
While the traditions for our fallen have drastically changed in today’s day and age, the element of bagpipes remains the same. So after the fanfare, the procession and the media coverage all end, at graveside there still stands a bagpiper to play and pay a final tribute to our fallen brothers and sisters.
Since that time, many fire departments across the nation have established Emerald Societies and Pipe and Drum Corps as a way to keep the tradition alive. These groups play at various events within the fire department and without. Today Emerald Societies are traditionally established as non-profit organizations to help promote Celtic culture through many different methods; honoring the lives and sacrifices of our public safety brothers and sisters being at the forefront.
Today, the Utah Firefighters Emerald Society has members from several different departments as well as members from the general public. It is our mission to honor our love of Celtic heritage and the lives of Firefighters, Police, Military, and EMS personnel who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the protection of others. Members include those involved in the pipe and drum band, the honor guard, and general members who help support our cause.
The motto of our Society is taken from the beloved song “Danny Boy” and in Gaelic reads: “i solas na gréine no i scáth” which when translated means “in sunshine or in shadow”.
The name of the Utah Firefighters Emerald Society tartan is “Smoke Showing” and is registered with the Scottish Government through the Scottish Tartan Registry. The tartan was designed with help from Rocky Roeger of USA Kilts and we are proud to call it our own. The colors behind the tartan are green, gold, and white, which echo the colors of the Irish tricolour. Black and grey were added to pay homage to our profession and represent smoke showing—an industry term called out over the radio when a fire company is arriving on scene and can see smoke rising from a structure, indicating an active burn. Smoke Showing is a restricted tartan; it cannot be sold, woven, or produced without the express written consent of the UFES. It is available for wear to all UFES members, including associate and corporate members. We encourage you to “kilt up” and join us!