BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — On August 24th, 2009, the City of Buffalo lost two members of its fire department during a building fire. In the days that followed, firefighters from across the country came to Buffalo to honor Firefighter Jonathan Croom and Lieutenant Chip McCarthy.
Members of the Washington, DC Fire Department's Pipes and Drums band played the funerals, and formed friendships with some of the Buffalo firefighters. At the time, Buffalo didn't have its own Pipes and Drums band, and shortly after, firefighters who worked with Croom and McCarthy formed what eventually became the Greater Buffalo Firefighters Pipes and Drums Band.
"I'm not Irish, I'm not Scottish. I'm a German kid from Polish Cheektowaga. And I'm playing the bagpipes. But it's because of what happened," explained band manager Michael Kick.
"I was Jonathan's chief. And grew up knowing Chip from when he was a little kid," said the band's pipe major Joe Mehltretter. "When we chose the color of the kilt, we went with black and red. Because that's what Jonathan and Chip would have understood, because that's the colors you see in fire."
The band is made up of career and volunteer firefighters, police officers and civilians. They play parties and parades, but they're also available for first responders if they're ever needed.
In October of 2017, when Buffalo Police Lieutenant Craig Lehner drowned in the Niagara River, they were needed.
"That was the first Buffalo thing that we had to do. And we had almost the entire band at that," explained Kick. "We had a couple people going on vacation - they canceled their vacation to be here and honor him."
Today, there are more than 60 band members. They're ready to be called at a moment's notice - in memory of those lost.
"From day one we knew we were honoring Chip and Jonathan," said Mehltretter. "There's a feeling of satisfaction when we do a good job. And we know we added dignity to a tough day."