Ask a Chief: What is the origin of the Maltese Cross?
Q: What is the history and origin of the firefighters’ Maltese Cross?
A: The Maltese Cross is an international symbol of firefighters and is displayed with pride on our uniforms, patches and vehicles. According to the Fire Department of the City of New York, the Maltese Cross dates back to when a courageous band of crusaders known as the Knights of St. John fought the Saracens for possession of the holy land. The Saracens fought back with a new weapon: fire. When the crusaders advanced on the walls of the city, they were struck with glass bombs containing naphetha, a highly flammable liquid. The Saracens than hurled a flaming torch, igniting the naphetha. Hundreds of knights were burned alive – others risked their lives to save their comrades.
The heroic efforts of the crusaders were recognized by awarding each a badge of honor – a cross similar to the one firefighters wear today. Since the Knights of St. John lived on a little island called Malta, the cross came to be known as the Maltese Cross.
The Maltese Cross is your symbol of protection. It means that the firefighter who wears this cross is willing to lay down his life for you. The Maltese Cross is a firefighter’s badge of honor, signifying that he works in courage — a ladder rung away from death.— T. John Cunningham, Elk River Fire Chief