Firefighter funeral traditions provide our fallen heroes the respect and gratitude they deserve for the ultimate sacrifice they made to our society. The types of funerals that firefighters have are usually classified as:
- Formal (full military-style honors and traditions)
- Semi-formal (some traditions and honors)
When firefighters pass away their family isn’t alone. The majority of fire departments have people to help plan the funeral if the family would like assistance with making arrangements for the funeral. The following firefighter funeral traditions help us remember their sacrifice and show the proper respect they deserve. Let’s look at some of the most common firefighter funeral traditions.
Firefighter Funeral Traditions
The firefighter funeral procession is assisted by the local police department. The police will help with the arrangement or an ideal traffic route for the procession. They will also lead the funeral procession as well as provide assistance with traffic control.
Helmet on the Altar
During the funeral service, the firefighter’s helmet will be placed on top of the casket or upon the altar.
Fellow police officers or firefighters will stand guard at the funeral entrance. These members, called the Honor Guard, are picked from fellow firefighters or officers. Their dress is formal and they are also the pallbearers that carry the firefighter’s casket.
The firefighter’s casket is covered with the flag from their firehouse that they served in. The color guard will fold the flag at the end of the ceremony and then pass it on to the next of kin to take in remembrance.
Tolling of the Bell
“Tolling of the Bell” happens during the firefighter’s funeral ceremony. This tradition is based on the telegraph pattern of communication. In the old days, the telegrapher communicated the term “fell” with the 5 dashes and a pause. This would be repeated 2 more times. Today, the bell ceremony sounds like the old firehouse bells that rang if there was a fire.
Fire Rigs at the Funeral Procession
Firefighter funeral will have several fire rigs attending the ceremony. The fire rig of the deceased will lead the procession to the cemetery.
The playing of bagpipes are possibly most recognizable of all the firefighter funeral traditions.
Firefighter songs Played at Funerals
Firefighter funerals and bagpipe music have a long history together. Firefighters and police officers have had bagpipes played at memorial services since the 19th century. This history began when Irish immigrants started arriving in the 1800s because of the potato famine in Ireland.
Irish Americans didn’t have many employment options due to discrimination. They were relegated to dangerous jobs and had to become firefighters or police officers. These jobs had a high death count and bagpipes were the instrument of choice for the Irish. Today, the most common firefighter songs played at funerals are Amazing Grace and The Minstrel Boy.
Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
T’was blind but now I see
T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear
And Grace, my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed
Through many dangers, toils and snares
We have already come.
T’was grace that brought us safe thus far
And grace will lead us home,
And grace will lead us home
Amazing grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now am found
T’was blind but now I see
Was blind, but now I see.
The Minstrel Boy
The minstrel boy to the war is gone;
In the ranks of death you’ll find him;
His father’s sword he has girded on,
And his wild harp slung behind him;
“Land of Song!” said the warrior bard,
“Though all the world betrays thee,
One sword, at least, thy rights shall guard,
One faithful harp shall praise thee!
The Minstrel fell! But the foeman’s chain
Could not bring that proud soul under;
The harp he loved ne’er spoke again,
For he tore its chords asunder;
And said “No chains shall sully thee,
Thou soul of love and bravery!
Thy songs were made for the pure and free
They shall never sound in slavery!
A FIREFIGHTER’S PRAYER
Give Me Concern
A willingness to seek out those in need
Give Me Courage
The boldness of spirit to face and conquer fear,
share and endure the ordeal of other in need.
Give Me Strength
Strength of heart, to bear whatever burden
might be placed on me and strength of body to
deliver safely all those placed in my care
Give Me Wisdom to Lead
The Compassion to comfort, and the love to serve unselfishly wherever you take me
And please Lord, through if all, be at my side.
THE FIREMAN’S PRAYER
When I am called to duty, God
Wherever flames may rage,
Give me strength to save some life
Whatever be its age.
Help me embrace a little child
Before it is too late
Or save an older person from
The horror of that fate.
Enable me to be alert
To the weakest shout
And quickly and efficiently
To put the fire out.
I want to fill my calling and
To give the best in me,
To guard my every neighbor and
Protect his property.
And if according to my fate
I am to lose my life
Please bless with your protecting hand
My family and my wife.
- Life Insurance for Firefighters
- Funeral prayers and poems
- National Fallen Firefighters Foundation – A non-profit foundation created by the U.S Congress to remember America’s fallen firefighters.