James Ginty was known not only as a firefighter, but also as the rallying spirit that founded the FDNY Emerald Society Pipes and Drums, an ancient tradition that brought unity to the rank and file.
"It’s amazing that across the U.S. you cannot imagine a fire department without a bag and pipe band," said retired FDNY firefighter and original band member Ed McLoughlin, 90, of Westbury. "That all came from New York City and that is Jimmy’s legacy."
Ginty, of Smithtown, died Oct. 15. He was 84.
McLoughlin, who has documented the band’s history, was at an Emerald Society meeting at the Irish Institute in 1962 when Ginty raised his hand and made the motion to start the band. "It was a tremendous morale booster," McLoughlin said.
Ginty and the other members would meet at a bar at Tremont and Webster avenues in the Bronx, where the bagpipes, drums and kilts were distributed.
"He was small in stature but was the giant in the room," McLoughlin said.
The small contingent of South Bronx firemen led the city in creating the tradition, which spread to firehouses nationwide. After Sept. 11, Ginty played his pipes at "all" the Sept. 11 firefighter funerals, said FDNY Battalion Chief Patrick Ginty, one of his sons.
James Ginty, the child of Irish immigrants, was born in 1934 in the South Bronx, where he grew up and met Catherine Moran, whom he married in 1957. Ten years later, they moved to a Smithtown house that was once on a potato farm.
He joined the Marine Corps and served in Korea from 1953 to 1954, then took all the Civil Service exams when he returned home. "The fire department called first," said Patrick Ginty, who added that his father’s two brothers, Jack and Tom, also joined the FDNY.
Remembering the early days, McLoughlin said: "No one knew how to play. It took a lot of time and patience. A lot of these guys were married."
James Ginty, who had no experience playing an instrument, practiced at home, making the neighbors "crazy," Patrick Ginty said.
But the rewards were worth it. A year later, the Emerald Society Pipes and Drums marched down Fifth Avenue on St. Patrick’s Day.
The band grew into a symbol of respect at services for firefighters and families, as well as dignitaries. The band’s popularity garnered invitations to play in Spain, Scotland, England, Ireland and Germany, McLoughlin said.
"They are world renowned and it’s all because of him and 15 other guys who were proud of their heritage and their camaraderie," said Patrick Ginty, who gave his father’s eulogy at a Mass at Sts. Philip and James Church in St. James on Friday. He was buried at St. Patrick's Cemetery in Smithtown.
"I always wanted to be like him," said Ginty, 51, who was an NYPD transit police officer before joining the fire department in 1993. "I always wanted to be a firefighter. I watched my father and he was always happy to go to work."
James Ginty, who joined the FDNY in 1957, was honored twice for saving lives when entering burning buildings. In 1974, working in Ladder Company 42 in the South Bronx, Ginty gave CPR and a heart massage to a child he was shielding from flames inside a burning apartment. He was given the Thomas A. Kenny Memorial Medal.
In 1984, two days before Christmas, Ginty saved two adults and an infant who were huddled in a burning apartment's bathroom shower. Ginty pushed through the engulfed living room to find the family. Cradling the baby in his arm, he led the parents out to a fire escape, earning the Third Alarm Association Medal.
James Ginty, a firefighter for 34 years, marched with the band until he was 70. "He never missed a funeral," Patrick Ginty said. "He had an unbelievable spirit and faith."
In addition to his brothers, wife and son Patrick, Ginty is survived by a sister; five other children, Eileen Stiene of Franklin Square, James Ginty of Mineola, Michael Ginty of Stony Brook, and Kathleen Morrisson and Mary Ellen Gaudiuso, both of Williston Park; 16 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.
Patrick Ginty said the solemn, hollow sound of the bagpipe "would always bring a tear" to his father’s eye.
"My father had a wonderful life and we all have comfort that he had a full life," he said. "His time was just up."