Local firefighters carry on bagpipe playing tradition

By trade they fight fires, by hobby they blow a continuous supply of hot air through bagpipes all the
while to the beat of a drum.
They are members of the Toledo Fire Pipes and Drums group, which got its start in 2003 when a couple of
Toledo firefighters got together and came up with the idea for the group.
Now, the pipes and drum ensemble boasts a membership of around 20 firefighters from Toledo and its
surrounding areas, including three Wood County members: Perrysburg Fire Chief Jeff Klein, Rossford Fire
Chief Jim Verbosky and Steve Romstadt, a firefighter for Northwood.
"It just started out with one bag piper and a drummer and it has blossomed every since," Klein
said.
The connection between firefighting and bagpipes dates back to the early 1900s, he explained. Back then,
he described being a firefighter an extremely tough job, with most of the guys living at the fire
station six days out of the week, making it sort of an undesirable job. Immigrants, in need of work,
filled these positions and given their heritage, the musical tie-in was natural.
"It was kind of customary in their funerals to start doing this and it just kind of transpired into
the fire service," said Klein, who plays bagpipes in the group.
There are several firefighter pipes and drums groups throughout Ohio and many more throughout the country
and several in Ohio.
The Toledo-based group plays at funerals, opening ceremonies, dedications, special events, parades and

conferences. In a typical year, Klein estimated they make around 20 to 25 appearances, with some
individuals playing on their own at funerals or other ceremonies.
While Klein has a musical background as a music major in college and tuba player, learning to play the
bagpipes proved to be a challenging experience.
"Being a brass player really didn’t help me," he said. "It is a lot different than what I
have been accustomed to."
For those starting from scratch, they learn how to finger the notes on a practice chanter, which Klein
explained was similar to a recorder. Once that is mastered, the musician moves up to the bagpipes.
"With the bagpipes it’s not so much the blowing into it, it’s keeping constant pressure going into
it," he said.
The genre of music played by the group was described as "World Music," by Klein. Most
well-noted for its rendition of "Amazing Grace," the group also does more upbeat selections
with marches, as well as an Irish tune and another piece of funeral music "Going Home."
"It’s a lot of memorization," said Romstadt, who also plays the pipes.
"It is by far the hardest thing I have ever done. It is a very unique instrument," he said.
But being physically fit as a firefighter and having increased lung capacity also comes in handy, he
said.
For Verbosky, who played the drums in high school, it was all a matter of getting back into the swing of
things after being away from the instrument for about 20 years.
"You just sit and listen to a bunch of drum tapes and try and get your rhythm back," said the
Rossford chief, who has played the bass and tenor drums in the group for the past three years.
Beyond individual practicing, the group also meets a couple times a month for practice at the Toledo Fire
Museum.
All of the members in the group purchase their own bagpipes and attire. A decent set of bagpipes can cost
anywhere from $1,000 to $1,200, Klein estimated, with decorative items, belts and carrying cases all
extra.
"You could probably sink $2,000 to $4,000 in it without really trying," he said.
But the cost is a factor that is overlooked when it comes to paying respects to fallen firefighters,
officers and loved ones.
"It just kind of makes you feel good when you go there and play and honor them," Verbosky said.