Law enforcement badges have a rich history filled with unique facts and symbolism related to what a department does and has done in the past. Fire departments have some of the most unique badges, with symbolism that dates back through decades of history. As some of the bravest first-responders, they wear fire department insignia meant to represent their sacrifice and heroism.
The insignia most often depicted on firefighter pins and badges is the Maltese Cross. It derives from the Order of St. John and their battles during the Crusades, during which they were attacked by fighters using fire as a weapon. These knights were considered the first firefighters because they rushed into danger to help others. Even today, the Maltese Cross is a symbol used on almost every firefighter badge and insignia because it represents loyalty to citizens caught in a fire and the willingness to sacrifice their personal safety to help others. Those who wear the Maltese Cross are showing that they will put others' lives ahead of their own.
Firefighters may also wear a bugle or a horn on their badges. This is a callback to the days before radios when bugles were used to convey orders and announcements about fires. The leader of the local fire department would use a bugle to alert the other firefighters, who would immediately speed off to help their community. Now, there isn't much need for bugles to round up the troops, but the symbol is still around. It has become the primary image to depict leadership and superiority within the ranks of a fire department. After all, the leader was the one who used the bugle to trumpet calls to the others, so having a bugle displays the status of a superior rank. Fully qualified firefighters do not get to wear a bugle pin; you don't get to wear a bugle on your uniform until you reach the lieutenant rank. As you advance through the ranks, you get more bugles on your uniform as a symbol of your promotion: A captain's uniform has two bugles side by side, and a battalion chief has three bugles crossed over each other in a shape reminiscent of a star or two bugles crossed over one another, depending on the department hierarchy. The fire chief is the highest possible rank and therefore has the most bugles: five, which is the maximum amount a firefighter can have on their insignia. These bugles are crossed over one another like a star.
Firefighters also have eye-catching badges with firefighting symbols related to their department. Often, they will have pins with images of a fire hydrant, ladder, ax, hat, or other representations of their profession. These are eye-catching visuals of what the person does for a living, but they also represent the "scramble," the promise to be prepared to go wherever help is needed at a moment's notice, since a fire can happen anywhere at any time. These badges are often red, as it is the color most often applied to the profession: Red is found in the brick used to build firehouses and the paint on firetrucks, and it symbolizes fire. Red is also a bright color that helps to alert people of an incoming firetruck so they will make space as it speeds by.
A firefighter's pins are proof of their dedication to their job as well as their desire to keep citizens safe during dangerous times. The badges they wear are symbols of this promise as well as reminders of the history of this profession and how it has evolved over centuries of helping people.
Maltese Cross Pin History and Meaning
- History of the Maltese Cross
- Why Do Firefighters Wear a Maltese Cross?
- The Maltese Cross
- A Piece of Fire Service History: The Maltese Cross
- All About the Maltese Cross Pin
- A Guide to Fire Department Bugles
- Why Does the Fire Service Use a Bugle as a Rank?
- Fire Officer 101: So What Do These Bugles Really Mean?
- All About Bugle Pins