The History of The Maltese Cross In The Fire Service

The Maltese Cross Firefighters

If you take a look at almost any fire apparatus today, you’re likely to see the Maltese cross. While it’s not really there for aesthetic appeal, this emblem has a very rich history and it symbolized an elite group of people that have dedicated their lives to serve their everyone in need. This is the story that this symbol of chivalry has to tell and bring to light the correlation between it and the fire service. 

Where Did The Maltese Cross Originate?

The Maltese cross had its origins during the Crusades, symbolizing the knights of that period. It was adopted by the early Knights of Malta as a design for their shields because it was perfect for riding horses into battle without being too bulky and cumbersome. 

During the 11th and 12th centuries, the Knights of Malta abandoned their military life and became a charitable organization that provides aid to those who need it whether poor or sick. Knights of the Maltese cross have also helped erect countless hospitals. Later on, the Knights of Malta joined forces with the Knights of the Crusades in order to claim the Holy Land. 

This rare breed of champions then started dressing differently and showcasing their status with crimson-colored capes over their suits of armor. Not only did the capes symbolize the status of the knights wearing them, but they were also used as a means of resistance against fire.

The now caped Knights of Malta would storm on horsebacks, rip their capes off their back, and use them to put out the fire eating away at their fellow troops that were engulfed in flames. The cross was later on inscribed and decorated by admirers as a reward for their chivalry. It later became the most honorable accolade to ever grace a knight’s uniform in the form of a badge. 

Since then, the Maltese cross has been associated with an array of admirable qualities such as bravery and loyalty. Fast forward to today, the time-honored Maltese cross is being worn by the men and women of the fire service as a badge of honor on their uniforms all across the country.

What Does The Maltese Cross Represent?

There are eight points on the Maltese cross, each point symbolizing one the Beatitudes given by Jesus Christ. While the symbolism of these eight knightly virtues hasn’t changed over the years, their working has. The Maltese cross, like we’ve established, symbolized a special breed of men and women that take the motto “For the Service of Mankind” as a way of life.

It’s universally agreed upon that the four arms of the Cross are indicative of the Cardinal Virtues: prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude. However, the eight points as a whole don’t carry a straight-forward meaning, as various authorities have given it different meanings. 

The meaning of each point was primarily religious before the secular version of the British Royal Order was released. That version has zero references to the Christian Faith and understanding. Since then, the meaning behind each point has changed to become observation, tact, resource, dexterity, explicitness, discrimination, perseverance, and sympathy respectively. 

What Does The Maltese Cross Stand For?

The eight knightly virtues have been personalized by the fire service to the eight we know today. To get a better understanding of how each virtue applies to the life of a firefighter, let’s ponder at the emblem from the past and find out what it signifies to a firefighter today.

Observation – Meaning to constantly be aware. When it comes to firefighting, you must be aware at all times because the unknown can always happen. Firefighters prepare for the worst en route and a thorough size-up is carried out upon arrival to the scene. Being observant and perceiving all the changes in a firefighter’s surroundings helps ensure the survival of the people to be rescued and the firefighters himself. Situational awareness is key.  

Tact – Meaning to be professional in your speech. We, as humans, are social creatures, and so human interaction is just unavoidable. Firefighters have to conduct their speech in such a way that impacts the people around them. The way a firefighter speaks should deliver a certain message, especially when giving orders on the fire ground.

Dexterity – Meaning to be versatile. The emergency scene can be unpredictable most of the time, and so firefighters must be able to adjust accordingly. This also touches on the firefighter’s ability to use his tools cleverly. An ideal firefighter is one that’s able to use his imagination to come up with strategies and tactics on the spot. Furthermore, a firefighter should strive to be a jack of all trades so that he can adapt and overcome all situations.

Explicitness – Meaning to communicate clearly. Using few words that speak volumes is a subtle art that not only firefighters need to master, but all of us humans. A fire ground is a place surrounded by hazards from all sides and there’s no room for implications. 

Perseverance – Meaning to never give up. As a firefighter, a lot of people depend on you to rescue them, you just can’t let them down. An ideal firefighter never quits, whether he feels exhausted mentally or physically, he just keeps going until his mission is complete.

Sympathy – Meaning to treat people gently. The life of a firefighter is a harsh reality that can be full of trauma, but a good firefighter doesn’t let this throw his emotional center off balance and he just marches on. A firefighter should always treat others with respect and be sympathetic without judgment

Gallantry – Meaning to be dedicated. Upon joining the department, an ideal firefighter is one that sets an example when it comes to commitment and dedication. Firefighting is a job that’s full of challenges that only a dedicated person can face and overcome. 

Loyalty – Meaning to be committed. Firefighters are dependent on each other when on a fire ground. A firefighting team should have each other’s backs in times of crisis and high stakes regardless of personal feelings towards one another. Loyalty to the team and the department is the essence of what makes an ideal firefighter.

Final Words

The Maltese cross and its eight points are open for interpretation and the firefighter virtues that are mentioned above are just two firefighters’ take on the eight points of the cross. How would you interpret these points and apply them to your life?

Other resources you may be interested in:

Fire Department Bugles: A Simple Guide

The Fireman’s Prayer: A Simple Guide

Dalmatians & The Fire Service