Firefighter funeral traditions show our deep gratitude and respect for the honorable contribution they make to society. When a firefighter dies, he is considered a "fallen hero," and his funeral will indicate such an honor.
Firefighters Funeral Traditions and Protocol
The family is not left alone to plan the funeral when a firefighter dies. Most fire departments have advocates that assist the family for grief counseling and to help in making arrangements for the funeral. Often, the department has protocol they wish to be followed when one of their own dies. Families can plan the funeral around their own religious beliefs, while keeping in mind firefighter funeral traditions. The following questions may be asked of the family so the advocate can plan the funeral in accordance with what the family wants:
- Does the family want the deceased firefighter buried with full department honors?
- Does the family want a church funeral and where will it be?
- Who is their religious leader?
- What funeral home will they be using?
- Who does the family want as pallbearers?
- Will there be an open casket?
Firefighter funerals are often attended by other firefighters from all over the nation. A hotel should be chosen that can make accommodations for out of town guests.
The police department will be assisting with the firefighter's funeral procession. They arrange a traffic route for the funeral procession, lead the procession, and provide traffic control.
One of the most recognized firefighter funeral traditions are bagpipes playing "Amazing Grace" or another religious song at the funeral. The tradition of having bagpipes at firefighter's funerals goes back to the 1800s when Irish and Scottish immigrants were usually forced to take the difficult and dangerous jobs that nobody else wanted, which at that time happened to be fighting fires. Those Irish and Scottish firefighters funerals had the typical bagpipes playing and the tradition has held since.
Helmet on the Altar
The firefighters helmet is placed upon his casket or altar during the funeral service.
The honor guard is chosen from fellow firefighters or police officers to stand guard at the entrance to the funeral. They will all be formally dressed in their dress blues. The honor guard posts the colors during the service and acts as pallbearers to carry the casket. At the end of the funeral service, the honor guard, along with as many police and firefighters as possible, may line up in two rows and allow the family to pass through the center as a show of respect.
The casket will be draped with the flag from the firehouse he served in. At the end of the ceremony, the color guard will ceremoniously fold the flag and pass it to the next of kin to keep.
Tolling of the Bell
During each firefighter funeral, there is the ceremony of the "Tolling of the Bell," where bells gong in a succinct and traditional pattern. The bell ceremony is reminiscent of the original firehouse bells that tolled when there was a fire. The actual ceremony is based upon the pattern of the original method of communicating that a firefighter had fallen, which is the telegraph. The telegrapher would tap out the word "fell" with five measured dashes, a pause and then repeated two more times.
Fire Rig Leads the Funeral Procession
At every firefighter's funeral you will see several or more fire rigs in attendance. The deceased's own fire rig will lead the funeral procession to the cemetery.
Firefighter Funeral Protocols
It is a sad occasion when a firefighter falls during his line of duty. Firefighter funeral traditions help us show proper respect and gratitude.