This honored symbol originated with a group of eleventh century knights who were serving in a Jerusalem hospital. They became known as the Order of Knights Hospitaller and later became the Knights of St. John. This charitable organization cared for the ill with great compassion. Knights of St. John, fought the Saracens for possession of the Holy Land, they were faced with a new weapon not known to European fighters. It was a simple but horrible device of war. The Saracens weapon was fire.
As the crusaders advanced on the walls of the city, they were bombarded with glass bombs containing naphtha, rosin, sulfur, and oil. When they were saturated with the liquid, the Saracens threw flaming torches into the crusaders. Hundreds of knights were burned alive while others risked their lives in an effort to save their brothers in arms from agonizing deaths. Thus these men became the first of a long line of Firefighters. Their heroic efforts were recognized by fellow crusaders who awarded each other with a badge of honor similar to the cross firefighters wear today.
In 1530, the Island of Malta was given to the courageous knights. The symbol on their flag, the eight-point cross, became known as the "Maltese Cross." The cross, which had originally helped the knights distinguish between friend and foe, became the ultimate symbol of heroism and service. The cross represents the principles of charity, loyalty, chivalry, gallantry, generosity to friend and foe, protection of the weak and dexterity in service.
Today, firefighters wear the Maltese Cross to symbolize their willingness to risk their lives to save others. The Maltese Cross is your symbol of protection, and is a Firefighter’s badge of honor, signifying that he works in courage - a ladder rung away from death.