Lawton Fire Department Capt. Mark Schucker steps out into the sunlight of the basketball court at Fire Station No. 2. Instead of an orange ball, he's grasping a set of bagpipes under his arm.
Firefighter Drew Young and Lt. Damon Bybee follow a few steps behind, delivering test rolls and short, screeching blurbs. See, there's something unique about the way the day's temperate and surprisingly damp Oklahoma air moves through the ancient Scottish bagpipe, and the instrument has to be tuned to match the atmosphere prior to playing. The tunes, in turn, can morph and mold the atmosphere around any listener, drawing tears or smiles from even the most stubborn eyes and faces.
The firemen play a three-tune set for The Constitution, and the mood transforms as "Scotland the Brave" melts into "Rowan Tree" and wrapped up with "Wings." A spectrum of emotional tales, heroic and mournful, echo in the majestic sounds wafting through the morning air.
It is undeniably the most perfect music for firefighters to play, and four of Lawton's own are representing the city in an effort to keep the 150-year-old tradition of piping and drumming alive in Oklahoma.
The Oklahoma Fire Pipe and Drum Team was officially started in 2010 by longtime piper and Grady County firefighter Tim Abdon with the assistance of firemen from Oklahoma City, Guthrie and Moore. Abdon was already playing in a civilian pipe and drum team, The Highlanders, and requests for bagpipes at fire or police service personnel funerals always seemed to come to him.
According to the pipe and drum team history, firefighters have revered the bagpipes for the better part of 150 years. When Irish and Scottish immigrants flooded into the United States in the 1800s, institutional discrimination forced them to work tough, dirty jobs that others didn't want, often as firefighters and police officers.
When a comrade fell in the line of duty or after years of service, it was typical for bagpipes to be played at the funeral, as it was likely an Irish funeral. Pretty soon, families of non-Irish firemen and policemen asked for pipes and drums when their loved ones were laid to rest, primarily because the sound of the pipes "add a special air and dignity to this solemn occasion."