Have you ever wondered what those colorful bars pinned to the uniforms of emergency services personnel are for? These medals and citation bars represent the heroic achievements of the police officer, firefighter, or EMS member wearing them proudly on their uniform. To recognize the bravery and sacrifice that goes into earning these pins, the team at WizardPins put together this ultimate guide to the different types of pins that are awarded to our nation’s brave first responders. Pins in our guide are standard versions; many individual police departments, fire departments, and EMS squads across the U.S. choose to create custom versions that are specific to their department.
What Is the Highest Medal of Honor Awarded to Emergency Services Personnel?
The Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor is the highest national medal of honor awarded to an emergency services personnel member. It is an annual award that has been presented by the president of the United States in the name of Congress since 2001. The Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor is awarded to firefighters, law enforcement, and EMS personnel for "actions above and beyond the call of duty and exhibiting exceptional courage, extraordinary decisiveness and presence of mind, or an unusual swiftness of action, regardless of his or her personal safety, in an attempt to save or protect human life."
Why Do Firefighters Wear a Maltese Cross?
The Maltese cross is the symbol of the fire service and can be found on a firefighter’s badge and other firefighter pins as well as on their trucks and equipment. It is a symbol of protection and represents that the firefighter is willing to lay down their life to protect others. The Maltese Cross has been used to symbolize protection for hundreds of years and was first worn by knights during the Crusades.
What Does the EMS Star of Life Mean?
The symbol of emergency medical services (EMS) is the six-sided Star of Life, and each of the six bars that make up the Star of Life represent one of the six functions of EMS. Inside the star is an image of a serpent wrapped around a staff that is meant to symbolize the staff of Asclepius, the ancient Greek god of medicine. The Star of Life can be found on EMS pins, ambulances, and medical equipment.
The six EMS functions are:
- On-scene care
- Care in transit
- Transfer to definitive care
Want to show your support for your local emergency services personnel? Wear one of our thin red line flag pins, wristbands, and lapel pins to show your support for firefighters, or use our thin blue line flag police pins to show support for law enforcement. Or you can show your support for both with our combination wristbands!
The Complete List of Emergency Services Personnel Pins
The most recognizable pin on the uniform of emergency services personnel is the large decorative badge that denotes which department they are a part of. The badge is worn above the left front pocket on the uniform.
Each emergency services department has a different rank structure, which is used to indicate the order of authority. The rank insignia pin is worn on the collar to easily identify the department they are a member of and their rank within it.
- Chief of Police
- Assistant Chief
- Deputy Chief
- Police Commander
- Police Captain
- Police Lieutenant
- Police Sergeant
- Police Corporal
- Police Detective
- Police Officer
Stars have been adopted as a symbol of law enforcement, as they have long been used to symbolize authority.
- Deputy Chief
- Assistant Chief
- Battalion Chief
The Maltese cross symbolizes protection. It is used as a symbol of fire service and represents that firefighters are willing to lay down their lives to protect others.
- EMS General
- EMS Colonel
- EMS Major
- EMS Captain
- EMS Lieutenant
- Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)
The Star of Life was adapted from the medical identification symbol, and each bar represents one of the six EMS functions: detection, reporting, response, on-scene care, care in transit, and transfer to definitive care. The serpent and staff in the middle symbolize the god of medicine, Asclepius.
Medals of Honor
Medals of honor are awarded to honor the bravery and sacrifice of emergency services personnel who have been killed or seriously injured in the line of duty or who have displayed exceptional courage while performing their duties to serve and protect the community. The medals are too heavy to wear on the uniform, so a small bar is worn instead to represent the medal the wearer has been awarded; these bars can be worn above the badge or name tag.
- Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor — Awarded to law enforcement, firefighters, and EMS for exhibiting exceptional bravery and swift action in an attempt to save or protect a human life. It’s the highest national award for valor by a public safety officer and is awarded annually by the president in the name of the U.S. Congress.
- Medal of Valor — Awarded to emergency services personnel for an outstanding and courageous act in the line of duty even when their own lives are at risk. It is the highest award given within the department.
- Medal of Courage — Awarded to emergency services personnel who displayed an exemplary act of bravery and courage
- Medal of Gallantry — Awarded to a firefighter or EMS personnel instrumental in rescuing and saving an individual from death or injury at great personal risk to their own life
- Medal of Meritorious Service — Awarded to a police officer who was instrumental in rescuing and saving an individual from death or injury at great personal risk to their own life
- Distinguished Service Medal — Awarded to emergency services personnel who have provided years of distinguished and dedicated service to their department or community
- Service Recognition Medal — Awarded to emergency services personnel in acknowledgment of their long and faithful service
- Firefighter/Police Officer/EMS of the Year Medal — Awarded to a firefighter, EMS personnel, first responder, or paramedic who has gone above and beyond to show initiative and dedication to their service during the year
- Final Alarm — This award is presented to the family of a deceased firefighter who was an active or lifelong member of a fire company.
- Last Call — This award is presented to the family of a deceased police officer or EMS personnel who was an active or lifelong member of law enforcement or emergency services.
Citation bars are pins awarded to emergency services personnel to recognize the recipient’s honor, bravery, and courage. They are also referred to as commendation bars, merit bars, award bars, or service bars. Citation bars are commonly worn on the uniform just above the badge as a way to display the achievements and medals the emergency services worker has accumulated during their tenure.
- Service Recognition: Awarded to recognize the recipient’s years of service and honor and dedication in serving the community
- Unit Citation: Awarded to an entire unit for exceptional collective efforts
- CPR Saves: Represents the number of lives the recipient has saved by performing CPR
- Disaster Response: Awarded to personnel for their exemplary work during natural disaster relief operations
- COVID-19 Responder: Awarded to those who put themselves at risk to serve and protect during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Search and Rescue Pin: Awarded to personnel involved in successful search and rescue operations
- Hazardous Material: Awarded to emergency services personnel who have received specialized training in hazardous materials response and mitigation
- Extrication: Awarded to personnel who have successfully used the Jaws of Life to extricate someone in need of medical help
- Dive Rescue: Awarded to firefighters and emergency responders who have received specialized training in dive rescue and underwater search operations
- Baby Delivery: Awarded to personnel for helping to deliver a baby