Veteran drum major passes on knowledge, mace at FDIC 2017

A visibly emotional Clayton Thomas handed Chad Tatman the ceremonial baton at the start of the general session

By Meera Pal, FireRescue1 Contributor

INDIANAPOLIS — “I am ready to be relieved. I am ready to relieve you, Sir.”

With those two simple sentences, the transfer of authority was complete between outgoing Drum Major Clayton Thomas and incoming Drum Major Chad Tatman.

Outgoing Drum Major Clayton Thomas (right) and incoming Drum Major Chad Tatman (left). (Photo/Meera Pal)
Outgoing Drum Major Clayton Thomas (right) and incoming Drum Major Chad Tatman (left). (Photo/Meera Pal)

At the start of the general session at FDIC 2017, thousands watched as Thomas handed Tatman the mace, the ceremonial baton used to keep the rhythm or beat.

The moment was humbling and emotional for both men.

“I hope I can do him proud,” Tatman said of Thomas, who is stepping down from the Indianapolis Public Safety Pies and Drums band after 22 years.

“Even after all these years, I never expected them to honor me that way,” a visibly emotional Thomas said following the ceremony. “Today was an honor.”

Thomas was a founding member of the band back in 1995, after calling the local union hall to inquire about joining a pipe and drum band. The group was in the early stages of forming a band and asked Thomas to audition.

While he’s seen the band’s members ebb and flow, Thomas has worked tirelessly to ensure its success, including working to acquire a Greyhound bus to help the band travel around the country for line of duty death funerals and other events.

“We play for the fallen. We play for the departed and we play for the families,” he said. “And, it’s an honor for us to do that.”

Thomas, who retired from the Indianapolis International Airport Fire Department in 2009 following open heart surgery, says he felt it was time to step down and pass on the mace. After suffering a stroke in early March, Thomas is waiting to be cleared to drive again, after which he plans to do some traveling. He said he knows the band is in good hands.

“After all these years to say goodbye, it’s hard; it’s emotional,” he said.

Tatman is grateful for everything Thomas has done and attributes the band’s longevity to Thomas’ dedication and the continued interest of the younger firefighting generation.

“People come to see us and want to get involved … We seem to grow every year,” Tatman said.

The group, currently numbered at 70, includes members from Canada and Norway.

Tatman said he saw the band perform in 2004 and was playing bass drum in the band by St. Patrick’s Day 2005.

A dispatcher for 15 years, he is currently the public information officer for Greenwood Fire Department. He also serves on USAR Task Force-1 for Indiana.

Tatman said Thomas has been passing on his knowledge since he began talking about stepping down as Drum Major last year.

“These are big shoes to fill. I hope I can do him proud,” he said. 

Clayton Thomas. (Photo/Meera Pal)

Chad Tatman's tattoo - a reminder that things will be OK. (Photo/Meera Pal)

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