The Maltese Cross
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 firefighters badges, and is quite
often the chosen design of firefighter tattoos.
The Maltese cross has its origins going back to the era of the Crusades and is named after the island of Malta which came to be the home of the Knights of St. John. The Knights of St. John existed during the 11th and 12 centuries. To help identify friend from foe during the fighting, they needed a symbol that could be used to quickly and easily identify themselves. They chose the Cross of Calvary (which would later be known as the Maltese cross) as their symbol because the Crusades were battles fought for a holy cause. During these battles, the enemies of the knights commonly used fire as a weapon. It was not uncommon for a Knight to have to risk his own life to extinguish a fire or rescue a comrade. Because of their ability to fight fires, and the pride and honor they took in the care of their sick and injured, the Maltese cross evolved into a fitting symbol of the modern fire service. The cross has since come to represent the principles of charity, loyalty, gallantry, generosity to friend and foe, dexterity of service, and protection of the weak
Star of Life
Just as physicians have the caduceus, emergency medical service personnel have the Star of Life. The six-barred cross represents the six system functions of emergency medical services: Detection, Reporting, Response, On Scene Care, Care in Transit, and Transfer to Definitive Care.
The snake and the staff in the center of the Star of Life portray the staff of Asclepius who, according to Greek mythology, was the son of Apollo, the god of light, truth, and prophecy. According to legend, Asclepius learned the art of healing from Cheron, the centaur. But Zeus, king of the gods, was fearful that, with Asclepius' knowledge, men might be rendered immortal. Rather than have this occur, Zeus killed Asclepius with a thunderbolt. Asclepius was worshipped as a god and people slept in his temples, as it was rumored that, in death, he effected cures of prescribed remedies to the sick during their dreams.
Asclepius is usually shown in a standing position, dressed in a long cloak, holding a staff with a serpent coiled around it. The staff has come to represent medicine's most recognized symbol. In the caduceus, used by physicians, the staff is winged, with two serpents intertwined. Although it holds no known medical relevance, it represents the magic wand of the Greek deity, Hermes, messenger of the gods.
In Numbers 21:9, the Bible also makes reference to a serpent on a staff. "So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived."
On September 23, 1973, NHTSA adopted a symbol which clearly and distinctively identifies emergency care within the total spectrum of the Emergency Medical Care System. The "Star of Life" had already been identified by the medical profession as a medical emergency symbol, and its use encouraged by the American Medical Association.*
On September 14, 1977, the Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks issued to the Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Certificate of Registration No. 1,058,022, for the "Star of Life" symbol as a certification mark.*
Among other specifications, the memorandum to NHTSA stated that the Star of Life should be:
On shoulder patches to be worn only by personnel having satisfactorily completed any of the DOT training courses, or approved equivalent and those personnel who, by title and function, administer, directly supervise, or otherwise participate in all or part of a national, state, or community EMS program or service in accordance with DOT criteria for Standard 11 which included the EMD.*
This included a specific color scheme for the Star of Life patch to be worn by emergency communications personnel once certified as an EMD.*
*DOT Pamphlet DOT HS 803 721, January 1979
One of the most beloved symbols of the fire service is the Dalmatian. The origins of the breed are shrouded in mystery. Experts are unsure really how old the breed is.
It is known that the Dalmatian, because of its poor hunting abilities, was relegated to the stable area of fine homes. It was in these stables that the Dalmatian became acquainted with the horses. Dalmatians were adopted by the fire service in the days of the horse-drawn fire wagons because they were agile and not afraid of the horses. The Dalmatian, with its superior agility and endurance could run out in front of the horses and clear the streets for the approaching fire wagon. When the horses were replaced by gasoline-driven fire engines, many fire departments kept their Dalmatians. In some areas you can still see the Dalmatian standing proudly on top of the fire engine as it races to another emergency.
Shamrocks Associated With
Fire Department Truck Companies
"O Paddy dear, and did ye hear the news
that's goin' round
The shamrock is by law forbid to grow on Irish ground!
No more St. Patrick's Day we'll keep, his colors can't be seen
For there's a cruel law ag'in the Wearin' o' the Green ..."
When the Irish and Scottish immigrated to this country following the great potato famine, they brought many of their traditions with them. Work for these immigrants was often very difficult to find. Factories and shops displayed signs reading "NINA" meaning No Irish Need Apply. The only jobs they could get were the civil service jobs that were dirty, dangerous or both -- firefighters and police officers -- jobs that no one else wanted.
Irish-American firefighters began affixing images of the shamrock to their apparatus and their person not only as a display of Irish-American pride, but also as an inconspicuous message to their fellow Irishmen advertising that the fire service is a place that can't discriminate against them.
Today, by tradition, most truck companies have a shamrock somewhere in their logo, on their apparatus, or on their helmet. Irish-American firefighters usually display a shamrock somewhere on their gear, as well, to channel the "luck of the Irish".
Saint Florian, the patron saint of firefighters, was an officer in the Roman army during the third century. Saint Florian had
converted to Christianity but kept his new faith a secret to avoid persecution. When ordered to execute a group of Christians during the persecutions of Diocletian, Saint Florian professed his faith
and refused to follow the order. He then had a stone tied around his neck and he was thrown into a river where he drowned.
Florian is said to have once stopped an entire town from burning by throwing a single bucket of water onto the fire. Saint Florian is the patron saint of firefighters, chimney sweeps, barrel-makers, soap boilers, harvests, Austria, Poland and others.