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What are some facts about the history of the firefighters' Maltese Cross?

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Quick Answer

The Maltese Cross was the symbol of the Knights of St. John, a militarized organization of "Brothers Hospitaller" who hailed from the island of Malta and participated in the religious Crusades. During the Crusades, this force encountered fiery weapons made by the Islamic Saracens by putting naphtha into glass bottles. By combating the spread of the fire, the Knights of St. John became the first modern firefighters. In 1865, the FDNY became the first modern department to use the cross.

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The Knights of St. John were descendants of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, which was a Benedictine order of monks that was founded around 1100 AD. After the order took up arms to participate in the Crusades, they became renowned for carrying heavy capes that were used to put out uniforms and soldiers that had been set ablaze.

The Maltese cross looks like a four-leafed flower with a circular red center, and it is representative of honor, courage and resiliency. Many firefighting agencies around the world use the cross as part of their insignias, but the practice began in the United States. The Fire Department of New York adopted the cross badge in 1865, and the Brooklyn Fire Department followed suit in 1882.

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