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Fire Service by Chris Lanier PDF Print E-mail

Fire Service History

By Chris Lanier

           When people think of the fire service, only a few main things come to mind; loud red fire trucks, Dalmatians, and the Maltese Cross. But most people do not know how these things originated. Instead, people recognize fire fighters to be the ones that come flying through town with lights and sirens blaring on there way to an emergency call. However, I think that people should be educated as to why these three things are symbolic to the fire service.

            The reason as to why fire trucks are red dates back to the 1800s. Every fire brigade, city, or town took pride in their apparatus. Each crew wanted their rig to be the cleanest, have the most brass, and be the best at responding to emergencies. Towns and cities were also very competitive about getting the job done first. The color red was the most expensive paint to buy; therefore, each crew wanted their rig to be painted red. In today’s time, if you ask someone what color are fire engines, they will quickly respond with red. However, you will see in some cities fire engines painted while, yellow, black, or even orange, but a vast majority of fire departments still use the traditional red fire engines, a color that is instantly recognized by everyone as a fire engine.

            When someone thinks of a Dalmatian, they think of it being the mascot of a fire department, but hardly anyone knows why that is. Dalmatians were early recognized to have a natural calming effect on horses. Back when horses were the main form of transportation, two Dalmatians would run next to the horse as they would pull a coach. Dalmatians are physical dogs, and would run off any other dog that would try to scare the horses. During this time, horse theft was a big issue. However, Dalmatians would protect the horses that they were guarding. During the time of the horse drawn fire apparatus that the Dalmatian becomes forever tied to the Fire Service, these fire house horses were required to spend hours at a time at a fire scene, or hours inside the fire house waiting for a call. The Dalmatian became the horses pet, as they were able to keep them calm. When a crew would rush to a call, there would be a Dalmatian or two running between the horses. Once on the scene, the Dalmatian took over as guard dog, insuring that nothing was stolen from the apparatus.

            The Maltese Cross is the badge of the fire fighter. It’s a symbol of protection and a badge of honor. The story of the Maltese Cross dates back hundreds of years ago. When a band of crusaders known as The Knights of St. John fought the Saracens for possession of the holy land, they encountered a new weapon unknown to the warriors. They were struck with glass bombs filled with naphtha, which is highly flammable. Then the Saracens would hurl a torch that would set the knights on fire. Hundreds of Knights burned alive, while some of their brothers risked their own lives to save them. Those knights became known as our first firefighters, and were awarded a badge of honor similar to the cross firefighters wear today. For centuries, The Knights of St. John lived on a little island named Malta, so the cross came to be known as the Maltese Cross.