What began as a loose, community-based organization in the 1600’s evolved into an organized system of volunteers by the late 1700’s and early 1800’s.
The first fully-paid fire department was established in 1853 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Regardless of the many changes and phases that firefighting has experienced, one element remains the same – the firefighter badge. Here are the elements of the iconic badge.
Dating back to the Crusades, the history of the 8-point Maltese Cross is deeply rooted in the fight for possession of the holy land. During an epic battle, located on the island of Malta, fire was used as a weapon against the Knights. In response, the Knights banded together to fight the flames and to rescue injured brothers, much like firefighters. Later, these heroic fighters were awarded a badge of honor similar to the 8-pointed Maltese Cross. It has come to symbolize protection and the loyalty with which the wearer serves.
The center seal of the firefighter badge typically depicts a grouping of fire symbols, called a Scramble. The elements of the scramble can vary depending upon the department, but they typically contain a ladder and an axe. Some modern variations depict a helmet or a fire hydrant. Collectively, this center image symbolizes preparedness.
The Color Red
The color red is often prevalent within the scramble or Maltese Cross. There are two origins for this bold color’s presence on the firefighter badge. First, the red is most commonly associated with the flames of a fire. Second, fire trucks and engines have a history of being red due to visibility purposes. Furthermore, badges containing red elements stand out visually and draw attention to the owner, representing both strength and prominence.
Prior to radios, in the early days of American firefighting, orders at a fire scene were given using a brass megaphone known as a bugle. The person holding the bugle was identified as the leader of the station. Fast forward to the present, and the bugle on a firefighter badge symbolizes leadership within fire departments. Sometimes bugles can signify seniority, including a lieutenant, chief, etc.
Read more on the history of firefighting to remember how far we’ve come.