CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A musician's instrument is an extension of himself, and in the case of a Charlotte firefighter, his bagpipes had even more meaning.
The Charlotte Fire Department Pipe and Drums Band is nationally recognized.
They have played at funerals and memorial services up and down the east coast, and each year perform at the start of the Coca Cola 600.
Firefighter Joey Cline, who drives Engine One--which covers the uptown area, is one of the bagpipers and he is proud of the distinction.
"Out of 1,200 firefighters, only five of us play the bagpipes," Cline said.
But now that number is down to four after someone stole Cline's bagpipes back in April.
He and another band member had stopped for lunch in the Northlake area after playing at the funeral for a retired fireman.
Cline remembers it well. "The manager came to the table and asked if either one of us had a blue pickup truck. I said, 'Yes, I got a blue pickup.' She said it was just broken into."
The bagpipes and some cash donated to the band had been taken.
Cline and his wife had saved over $5,000 to buy his bagpipes in 2004 so he could join the elite group.
"The first time I ever got to play with it in public was for President George W. Bush at the National Firefighters Memorial," Cline said.
The department started putting the word out about the theft on Twitter and other social media and it spread across the city, but no suspect has been identified yet.
For Joey Cline, it meant that without his instrument, he could no longer take part in the funerals and memorials that meant so much to him.
"If it provides some comfort for the family, which a lot of them say it does, it brings me kind of a little bit closer into their lives," said Cline.
The department said if anyone has the bagpipes they can be left at any fire station or police station with no questions asked.
"It's just something that if they do have them, just return them. That is really all I ask for," said Cline.
Anyone with information about the stolen bagpipes is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 704-334-1600.