The Meaning Behind the Firemans Cross and Other Firefighting Symbols

Firefighting has a rich history, which is reflected in the symbols on fireman badges, fire investigator patches and firefighter challenge coins.

Firefighter Badges and Patches

Firefighter badges and patches include fire station information and a symbol or statement of the individual’s position, such as lieutenant or chief. Alternatively, fire investigators often carry their badges in leather cases or in wallets. Fire investigator patches or fire department patches may be embroidered onto a patch plaque or sewn directly onto clothing.

Challenge Coins

Firefighter challenge coins signify membership in a squadron. They also express pride and belonging. Stations use challenge coins to bolster team spirit or to commemorate special occasions such as promotions, retirements or anniversaries.

Maltese Cross

The Maltese cross, or fireman’s cross, is a symbol almost every U.S. firefighter sports. The firefighter’s cross is eight pointed, and each arm has two points. Together, the eight points represent the eight traits found in chivalrous individuals: perseverance, loyalty, dexterity, explicitness, observation, tact, sympathy, and gallantry. The Maltese cross one of the most commonly used emblems on firefighter challenge coins.

The Star of Life

The Star of Life is identified with Emergency Medical Services personnel. It is a blue, six-barred cross with a snake and staff in the center. The points of the star represent the six stages of emergency services care: detection, reporting, response, on-scene care, care in transit and transfer to definitive care. The symbol of the snake and staff harkens back to the Greek mythological figure of Asclepius, who used his staff to heal. Artists often portray Asclepius holding a staff that has a snake wrapped around it.

The Bugle

The bugle was an early method of communication firefighters used to coordinate their efforts. Oftentimes, the bugle symbolizes the rank of a firefighter within a unit. For example, lieutenants have one bugle on their badge or patch, captains have two that are side-by-side, battalion chiefs have two crossed bugles, division chiefs have three crossed bugles, assistant chiefs have four crossed bugles and the fire chief or commissioner has five crossed bugles.

Saint Florian

Saint Florian, often shown on firefighter challenge coins, is the patron saint of firefighters. Born in Austria around 250 A.D., Florian was a Christian in the Roman army during the rule of Diocletian, when Christianity was illegal. He was sentenced to death for disobeying orders to imprison and kill Christians, burn churches, and destroy religious texts. Folklore states that Florian extinguished a fire with only one pitcher of water. It is also said that when Florian was sentenced to death, he told the Roman soldiers he would climb to heaven on the flames in which they would burn him. They worried he might be true, so they tied a rock around his neck and drowned Florian instead.

Firefighters are the brave men and women who daily risk their own well-being in order to save others. The symbols on their patches, badges and coins tell the story of firefighting history and the honorable traits firefighters possess.

~Jeff Burkman, 2010