Symbolism of the Firefighter Emblem (Maltese & Florian Cross)

firefighter crossThe Firefighter Cross is a symbol of honor, valor, courage and integrity.

This cross is almost universally used as the symbol of firefighters around the world. So, in this article, we’re going to do a deep dive into what the cross is, what it symbolizes, and how it’s actually used.

As you’ll see, it’s got a long (and sometimes debated) history. But today, we all come together to use it for the same reason: it’s a sign of pride in the work firefighters do and a symbol that holds the brotherhood of firefighters together around the world.

What is the Firefighter Cross?

It is often referred to as the Maltese Cross or St Florian Cross.

While the firefighter cross’s shape most closely resembles the St Florian cross, it clearly also looks a lot like the Maltese Cross.

In fact, while the Maltese and St Florian crosses are different, they have a lot of similarities in meaning. It’s even believed the more modern Maltese Cross is derivative of the older St Florian cross.

So, you’ll find both names are legitimately used by firefighters to talk about the ‘insignia of firefighters’ around the world. While the St Florian cross appears to be the ‘real’ cross (as it is the cross of the Patron Saint of Firefighters), both are used and accepted.

For example, the International Association of Firefighters [1] employs the St Florian Cross, but the Country Fire Authority of Victoria, Australia [2] uses the Maltese Cross as their ‘Fire Service Star’.

What is the History of the St Florian Cross?

The St Florian Cross came about well before the Maltese Cross [3]. It’s known to have been named after a 3rd and 4th century commander in the Roman army. His job was to organize the firefighters of the province of Noricum, which he commanded. He was certainly not the first firefighter, but he was beloved by the people for his civic service and his servitude to Jesus, and commanded the first organized firefighting contingent within the Roman army.

St. Florian’s death was not a nice one, though. He was known for refusing to enforce the ant-Christian laws of the time. He was killed when he refused to provide a sacrificial gift the old Roman gods when directly ordered to. So, he was drowned!

Many centuries later, he was named a saint, and has become the patron saint of firefighters. 

St Florian’s cross is his own symbol. It is an eight-pointed star with rounded edges, and is the cross that looks most alike to the crosses on firefighter emblems today.

What is the History of the Maltese Cross?

The Maltese Cross dates back to the Crusades of the 14th Century.

Legend says that the Knights of St John were in a close battle with the Saracens for the holy land when they were doused in fire by the Saracens. The Saracens lobbed glass bombs of naphtha and lit it, watching the Knights burn alive.

The Knights’ battle against the Saracens quickly became a battle to put out the fire that was engulfing their comrades.

The heroic efforts of the Knights to put out the fire led to widespread recognition of their ability to fight against fire. These Knights were awarded a badge of honour on which an eight-pointed cross was emblazoned.

As these Knights hailed from Malta, the cross they were awarded for their firefighting efforts was named the ‘Maltese Cross’.

It is not a long bow to draw to assume the cross that was handed to these Knights from Malta was indeed a variation of St Florian’s cross itself.

So what does the Cross Symbolize?

The Maltese Cross symbolizes:

  • Willingness to protect and lay down your life to protect and save others.
  • Courage, Galantry and Loyalty to your brothers and community.
  • .Sympathy for others.
  • Perseverance against the odds.
  • Explicitness (being clear and upfront)
  • Dexterity (physical ability to do complex tasks)
  • Tact (the mindfulness and skill to complete the tasks)
  • Observational Skills.

How is the Firefighter Cross used Today?

The firefighter cross is emblazoned on most cities’ firefighter emblems. You’ll see it on their trucks, helmets and above the front door to the fire station.

But there are plenty of other places you might also find the cross.

One cool place where I’ve seen it is on a firefighter’s cufflinks. Next time you’re at a formal ball or event where firefighters are attending, check out their cufflinks – there’s a good chance you’ll see the Maltese Cross.

If you’re ever going to buy a gift for a firefighter, you’ll also find that there are tons of gifts out there with the emblem emblazoned on it. One of my favorites is specialized rescue knives with the Maltese cross on the handle. These knives are often created especially for firefighters – with car rescue multi-tools build into the knives. The addition of the emblem on them works a treat.

Other tools that often have the emblem on them include specialized firefighter flashlights which are designed to work well in smoke, and even specialized firefighter gloves. Firefighters often need NFPA approved firefighting gloves that can withstand the heat and rigor of fire duties. The emblazoning of the firefighter emblem on this gear gives it an added personalized feel, and shows the gear is made specifically for a firefighter. 

Are there Rules for Who can and can’t Wear It?

No, there isn’t a special rule book. Although if you’re a firefighter, you might find that your fire department might have their own rules specific to you and your place of employment.

Nonetheless, it’s generally accepted that firefighters should uphold the symbolism and values of the firefighter cross at all times, but especially when they’ve got it on their person!

Courteous behaviors consistent with the cross include:

  • Avoid cursing. To act with honor is to speak to people with respect at all times.
  • Represent your Brotherhood. When you’re wearing the cross, you’re representing all firefighters. You are claiming that you are a member of the firefighting service. Therefore, you should show people the true character of firefighters.
  • Defend the Vulnerable. One of the most honorable tasks of the fire service is that it serves all people equally. When you see people in need, you as a firefighter step in to defend them.
  • Respect your Community. Firefighters form part of the backbone of any community. Do not go around speaking ill of the community while wearing the emblem, as it reflects badly on the whole profession.

At the end of the day, while there aren’t any special rules to follow when wearing the cross, you’ll look like a bit of a hypocrite if you’re not sticking to its values while also flaunting it.

Final Thoughts

The Firefighter cross – no matter who it was who came up with it – is today a great symbol of pride and brotherhood. It is a badge that brings together all the best values that firefighters have, and is worn with great pride.

But, those who wear it must be mindful of the heritage and tradition of the cross and the men and women it represents. Its values must be carried forth from generation to generation of firefighters who stand in the line of fire to keep the rest of us safe.

Sources

  1. International Association of Firefighters
  2. Country Fire Authority of Victoria
  3. St Florian Cross Image (used under WikiMedia Commons License)