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Importance of the Maltese Cross in Fire Departments

Fire departments all across the United States use the Maltese cross as an identifier and a symbol of their dedication to the cause and service. It is synonymous with fire departments and is displayed on most fire department patches, apparel and equipment. This cross has an illustrious history, having been modeled on the cross used by the Knights Hospitaller during the crusades. 

What Is a Maltese Cross? 

The Maltese cross is an eight-pointed cross formed by pointing four dovetail icons towards the center of a square to meet at the vertex. The shape was borrowed from Byzantine culture and originally featured a white cross placed on a black or red background. 

The eight points on the cross symbolize the beatitudes given by Jesus Christ during the Sermon on the Mount. The beatitudes were altered on the Maltese cross to embody the virtues represented by the knights who valiantly confronted fire as a way of life. 

History of The Maltese Cross

The Maltese cross was used during the crusades to symbolize the Christian warrior. It was a pledge to fight in defense of the Holy Land and devotion to protect the lives of compatriots. Modern firefighters now wear a Maltese Cross, which is a variant of the crusader’s insignia known as the Cross of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. 

The Knights were an order of warrior monks that took vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity and were one of the first orders to fight for Christendom. Initially, the monks ran a hospital for pilgrims in Jerusalem. However, when the city became the epicenter of a religious war, they took arms to protect pilgrims and holy sites even as they continued to provide charity to the sick and poor.

Since warrior armor covered almost the entire body and face, the Knights had difficulty distinguishing other monks in battle. They needed an easily recognizable emblem. They chose the Cross of Calvary as their symbol, which features a white cross on a dark background. After the fall of Jerusalem, they moved to Malta.

Why Do Firefighters Wear a Maltese Cross?

Many Knights developed firefighting skills during the crusades out of necessity. Their adversaries often threw bombs and war vessels containing naphtha during the war. Hundreds of knights were immolated while others risked life to save their brothers from a fiery death. 

Fellow crusaders recognized the knights for their efforts by awarding them a Badge of Honor in the form of the Maltese cross that was similar to the one worn by firefighters. Thus, the knights became the first firefighters in recorded history and an inspiration for modern firefighters. 

The Maltese Cross worn by modern day firefighters as patches is a symbol of protection and it is used by every fire department in the United States. Historians are unsure about the first fire department to use the Maltese cross, but note that the New York Fire Department first used it in 1865. Fire Departments across the United States have since used the Maltese Cross by designing and branding it according to the tradition of their department and locale.

The Maltese cross means that firefighters who wear it are willing to die for the cause or risk their lives for fellow firefighters, just like the Knights did during the crusades. It is a firefighter’s badge of honor, signifying courage and commitment to the fight against a fiery monster. 

Most firefighters now ascribe a value to each of the eight points on the cross. The obligations and aspirations include:

•    observation- to always be alert
•    tact- to engage the situation tactfully 
•    dexterity-to be versatile at work
•    explicitness- to communicate clearly 
•    perseverance- to never give up 
•    sympathy- to treat others gently and with respect
•    gallantry- to be dedicated to the service
•    loyalty-to have each other’s back in action 

UltraPatches recognizes the rich tradition symbolized by the Maltese cross patches worn by firefighters. We design high-quality patches for different applications. If you need patches for your fire service or any other function, UltraPatches can design custom patches that are sleek and unique. We design six types of patches with the colors, shapes, material, and size of your choice. 

Get a price quote by visiting our website and fill the quote form, or call us at 541-248-8831, or email us at and reach out to our sales representative with your project.