LEWISVILLE — Bagpipes and drums lined the walls of the Hilton Garden Inn on Thursday morning as the sixth annual Keeping Tradition Alive Honor Guard, Pipes & Drums Symposium began.
The event, put on by the Lewisville Fire Department and the city of Lewisville, draws more than 300 firefighters from across the United States.
“Our main goal is to make sure the tradition of pipes, drums and honor guard are carried on with each generation of public servants,” said Terry McGrath, assistant chief of support services for Lewisville.
McGrath, the self-described “drum man,” is no longer active on his department’s pipes and drums but he has organized and headed up the KTA conference each year.
“It originally started out with our pipe major hosting a practice and meeting over a lunch very informally one day,” McGrath said.
The interest for a day of gathering and learning techniques was overwhelming and spanned from local to national interest.
The first year was free; now it costs $65 to attend the symposium.
“We want to make it cost effective for everyone to attend because this money is coming out of their own pockets; the departments don’t pay for this,” McGrath said. “Sponsors are a huge help. We don’t actively seek them, but Miller in Denton has been very generous from the beginning.”
Phillip Leslie, a 32-year veteran with the Cleveland (Ohio) Fire Department, said he went the first year for training and he has been back every year since.
He said he met Scott Thompson, who was a division chief in Lewisville at the time, and learned about the training.
Leslie plays tenor and is among several others who are repeat attendees. He said no matter how many times he comes, he always leaves with something new.
“The learning process doesn’t stop,” Leslie said.
Recently, the tragic explosion in West hit home with the firefighter community.
Jim Byers, a state honor guard commander and Lewisville firefighter and paramedic, said firefighters tend to take care of each other.
Each department in Denton County sent two to three men to help out in West, Byers said.
Byers said 7,000 man-hours were spent guarding the fallen heroes of West, not including funerals or processionals.
Events like this help put focus on needing to know how to properly salute a fallen comrade.
Leslie said the closeness of everyone during the two-day training symposium is inspiring.
Whether it’s learning how to properly fold a flag during a “mock funeral” or how to hold your bagpipe, officials at every learning level are able to bring back something to their respective communities once the event comes to a close.
Brian Freed, also an assistant fire chief in Lewisville, said the event was at “full capacity.” They bring in 100 on pipes, 100 on drums and 100 with honor guards.
McGrath said the highlight each year is exactly what they have been training for — to perform.
A free concert is planned from 6 to 11 p.m. today on the steps of Lewisville City Hall, 1197 W. Main St.
He said the city will also host the Killdares, a Celtic rock band.
“This was the city’s way to be able to let more people enjoy the show. The city is fully supportive of us and this event every year and we are grateful for that,” McGrath said.
MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885 and via Twitter at @MGrayNews.