Modern fire department patches are packed with symbolism you may not be aware of. While fire-fighting itself can be traced back to colonial days, it first began as a community-based organization during the 1600s. During the 1700s and early 1800s, fire-fighting evolved into an orderly system of volunteers and finally into the first fully-paid department, founded in Columbus, Ohio during the 1850s. Here’s what to know about the symbolism of fire department patches.
From Humble Beginnings
Fire department patches provide identification as well as a sense of camaraderie, and every modern firefighter can be seen wearing patches that showcase and pay tribute to firefighting history.
The Maltese Cross
One of the common symbols found on firefighting patches is the eight-point Maltese Cross. First awarded to the Knights of St. John on the island of Malta, the cross rapidly became a symbol of loyalty and protection for those who served. It was the first time fire had been used as a weapon in war and the Knights were known to rescue injured people from the flames. In modern times, the eight-point Maltese Cross is seen on badges, patches, and even on the side of some fire trucks.
The center-most part of a firefighter’s patch features several symbols, often a ladder and an ax, among others. Known as the scramble, more modern additions to this section, such as helmets and hoses, have been added in recent years to symbolize both the history and the current commitment to the trade.
Bugles are often seen on firefighter patches, symbolizing leadership within the department. This is a reference to the days before wireless radios when bugles were used to issue orders. The person with the bugle was commonly recognized as the leader. Patches with a large number of bugles indicate seniority.
Whatever symbols a firefighter’s patches feature, they will all have the color red somewhere in them. Red is typically associated with the fire department, flames in general, and the history of fire trucks being painted red for better visibility. The color red in the patches, usually seen in the scramble or the Maltese Cross, represents bravery and the dedication of all firefighters, both past and present.
Knowing the symbolism of firefighter patches may even make you more likely to notice them. According to research, in 2018, 67% of firefighters were working in communities with a population of at least 25,000, making it easy for these brave men and women to get lost in the crowd. With custom patches, that will no longer be the case.