220px-Maltese_cross.svgThe Badge of a Firefighter is the Maltese Cross.

The Maltese Cross is a symbol of protection and a badge of honor. Its story is hundreds of years old. The Maltese cross is known around the world as a symbol of the fire service. It is often seen painted on fire trucks, on the clothing of firefighters, depicted on firefighter’s badges, and is quite often the chosen design of firefighter tattoos. So where did the Maltese cross come from, and how did it get to be known as a symbol of the fire service?

When a courageous band of crusaders known as Knights of St. John fought the Saracens for possession of the Holy Land, they encountered a new weapon unknown to European warriors. It was a simple, but horrible device of war. It caused excruciating pain and agonizing death upon the brave fighters. The Saracens weapon was fire. As the crusaders advanced on the walls of the city, they were struck by glass bombs containing naphtha. When they became saturated with the highly flammable liquid, the Saracens hurled a flaming torch into their midst. Hundreds of the knights were burned alive; others risked their lives to save their brothers-in-arms from dying painful, fiery deaths.

badge-of-honorThus, these men became the first of a long list of courageous firefighters. Their heroic efforts were recognized by fellow crusaders who awarded each hero a badge of honor; a cross similar to the one firefighters wear today. Since the Knights of St. John lived for close to four centuries on a little island in the Mediterranean Sea named Malta, the cross came to be known as the Maltese Cross. The Maltese Cross is a symbol of protection. It means that the Firefighter who wears this cross is willing to lay down their life for others just as the crusaders sacrificed their lives for their fellow man so many years ago.

The Maltese Cross is a Firefighter’s badge of honor, signifying that they work in courage…a ladder rung away from death.

The shoulder patch of North Port Fire Rescue (left) incorporates the modern-day version of the Maltese Cross in its center.