As with fire organizations worldwide, the Levittown Fire Department uses the Maltese Cross as its' insignia.
As Levittown celebrates the 50th anniversary of the fire department, the history of the Maltese Cross is passed along to Tribune readers:
Almost everyone is aware of the fact that all firefighters wear the symbol of protection, the badge of honor ... The Maltese Cross. Probably not known so well, however, is how and when this particular emblem became the trademark of firefighters, and why it holds such a special significance to all who serve in the fire service.
To find the answer to these questions, we must turn back the pages of time to the middle ages ... the years of the Crusades. One of these groups, the Hospitallers, or as they were better known, the Knights of St. John, had its origin in Palestine in the 11th century. Their aim, to succor and protect Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Sepulchre. Certain Italian merchants had previously erected, in Jerusalem, a Benedictine chapel and two hospices. Upon this foundation arose a great organization, predominantly military in character although continuing to be professionally religious.
During the battles with the Saracens for the Holy Land, these Crusaders encountered a weapon here-to-fore unknown to European warriors. 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 struck by glass bombs containing naphtha. When they became saturated with the highly flammable liquid, the Saracens, hurled a flaming tree into their midst.
Hundreds of knights were burned alive, others risked their lives to quench the flames and save their brothers-in-arms from dying fiery deaths.
Thus these men became the first firemen, and the first of a long line of courageous firefighters. The knights wore red surcoats over their armor which probably accounts for the one-time general use of red shirts as part of the fireman's uniform. The Hospitallers' motto, "Pro Fide" (For the Faith) was later revised to "Pro Ultitate Homum" (To the Benefit of Man). Their badge was a white cross edged in gold, similar in shape to those worn by firemen today.
Their heroic efforts were recognized by fellow crusaders who awarded each hero a badge of honor ... a replica of that cross. Since the Knights of St. John lived on the island of Malta for nearly four centuries, this cross became known as the Maltese Cross.
The Maltese Cross is a symbol of protection, when seen by the average citizen. It means that the men wearing this cross are willing to lay down their lives, if need be, to protect you. It is certainly a fireman's badge of honor, denoting courage, training, and the ability to work at death's front door.