GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It has been a difficult week for Michigan firefighters. Two line-of-duty death funerals, one Friday in Flint and the other Saturday in Paw Paw, serve as a reminder of the dangers of the job.
Grand Rapids firefighters were among the crews went to Flint for honor one of that city’s bravest. They’ll be in Paw Paw Saturday for the funeral for Lt. Ethan Quillen, killed by a falling power line during the ice storm on Feb. 22.
“The fire service is a family,” Grand Rapids Fire Department Deputy Chief Jack Johnson said.
They may not have ever met, but they’re bound by shared experiences regardless of age or department size.
“We go through the same ups and down during the job, whether it’s a bad fire or medical. It truly is a family,” Johnson said. “I believe it reinforces to our folks about how important the job that we do is. Understanding that at any moment, one of us could fall as well and knowing that our brothers and sisters are going to have our back if and or when that ever happen.”
Firefighter funerals are rich in tradition and bagpipes are a big part of that. The haunting sound stirs emotions.
“The first time you hear it, it’s just an incredible feeling, the way it just moves through you, through the entire building. It just moves you. When you add the snare drum and the bass drum with it, it becomes a very commanding presence,” Grand Rapids firefighter Matt Hutter said.
On Saturday, as many as 40 bagpipers and drummers from throughout the Midwest will take part in Lt. Quillen’s funeral.
“I do hope that we are able to help the family grieve and help a grieving department get through a hard time,” Hutter, who is organizing the group, said.
Bagpipes became a tradition in the fire service at the turn of the 20th century, when Irish and Scottish immigrants dominated police precincts and firehouses.
“Those are the jobs that were dirty and nobody wanted them at the time,” Hutter said. “They had a lot of line-of-duty deaths unfortunately, so bagpipes were incorporated.”
Hutter helped form the Grand Rapids Fire Department’s Pipe and Drum Corp in 2018. It performs at parades and other community events, but its main focus is supporting the families of fallen firefighters.
“This is just one of our ways we can be there for the family and just help them grieve and get through this process,” Hutter said. “It’s hard. It’s just hard for them.”
News 8 will carry Quillen’s the funeral live on WXSP and on woodtv.com starting at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.