Detroit Fire Department History – Detroit Fire Department Band

Today in DFD history – April 17, 1920

The Detroit Fire Department Band was organized by Captain Anthony Delesie, Glenn Middleditch, Otto Klatt (all of Rescue 1), and a fourth unidentified man from another fire company.  Their first public appearance was marching in the Armistice Day Parade.

1920's dfd band

Detroit Fire Department Band and other Fire Department members –  1920’s era

By 1926 the band had grown to 44 men.  For three years the band gave concerts on WJR radio.  They were very popular and drew thousands of fan letters from throughout the country. 

One of the biggest honor the band received came in 1926 when they were selected to escort John Phillip Sousa from the train depot to Orchestra Hall. Sousa highly praised the band on it’s fine appearance and playing ability.

detroit fire department band 1944

In addition to the larger band, a few small groups were also formed.  In 1958  Bob Engel and his Five Alarms was formed to play dance music at mixed retirement parties. (A mixed party is a party that includes spouses, stag party would be limited to department members).  This group was still active in 1977, although Bob Engel had retired by that time.  It is not clear how long after 77 they disbanded.

detroit fire department band March 7 1969

March 7th, 1969 Detroit Fire Department Band at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new station at Lafayette & Mt. Elliot. When completed, the station became the new home of  Engine 7 & Ladder 6.

In 1964 a German Band was formed to play at stag parties and civic events.  Eventually the group was renamed the Red Shirt Band, and as of 1977 was still active.  Again it is uncertain when they stopped playing together.

This clip, from the movie BURN, features the band on Memorial Day 2011.

The band is still active today, playing at civic affairs, parades, memorial day services, Firemen’s Field Days, and has the sad duty of playing at members funerals. It is open to both department members and civilians.  There is an open invitation for anyone interested to join them in carrying on this great tradition.

Click here to go to the Detroit Fire Department Band Facebook page.


Chief Richard Hartsfield proudly leading the band.

NOTE: The band’s most recent director, Chief Richard Hartsfield passed away last week.  As is only fitting, the band will be performing at his funeral later this week.
What is your have a favorite memory of the band?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Mike Tiger Price

    Richard Allan Xavier Hartsfield was a man whom I admired for many a year. We initially met as young journalists in a five-Detroit Public School program in 1969. Richard graduated from Central High School with honors. His journalism instructor was Mrs. Brinkerhoff. I graduated Mackenzie.

    Dr. Steven Chennault led the program and we spent two weeks on campus at the Allan Rumsey House in the North Quad of the University of Michigan. The other schools that were involved were Northeastern, Kettering and Southeastern High Schools.

    Richard graduated from Central Michigan University while I attended Eastern Michigan University. We re-met as Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity brothers and have shared our stories for more than 40 years.

    Brother Richard played several instruments and I saw him play twice, once at the United Negro College Fund Walk-a-than. I never saw a brother so stylish with so much substance. We met for the last time as I shared with him Detroit Tigers lapel pins during the World Series of October 2012.

    Brother Richard will be missed. GOD bless the Hartsfield Family. He was a lover of good people and good causes. Richard was an outstanding leader, an achiever and a gentleman. God bless the Heroes of the Detroit Fire Department. Kindest regards, Mr. & Mrs. Mike “Tiger” Price

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