Exploring the Fire Service


SONY DSCFire is an important phenomenon, expressing religious thought, will and emotions. The fire is luminous, warm, cleansing, purifying and at the same time destroying and it is therefore an important part of the religious attraction and fear of the reality of supernatural powers – a link between the gods and the life of humans. The fire is often used as an instrument in various rituals.

In Greek mythology the titan Prometheus stole the fire from the gods and gave it to mortals. The Titan carried the fire away from Mount Olympus in a fennel stalk – a method of transporting fire that is well known.

Also, the Phoeinx was a fabulous golden-red bird whose body emitted pure rays of sunlight. The Phoenix bird symbolizes immortality, resurrection and life after death. According to Greek mythology, the bird lived in Arabia, near a cool well. Every morning at dawn, the sun god would stop his chariot to listen to the bird sing a beautiful song while it bathed in the well. Only one phoenix exists at a time. When the bird felt its death was near, every 500 to 1,461 years, it would build a nest of aromatic wood and set it on fire. The bird then was consumed by the flames. A new phoenix sprang forth from the pyre. It embalmed the ashes of its predecessor in an egg of myrrh and flew with it to Heliopolis, city of the sun, where the egg was deposited on the altar of the sun god. In Egypt, it was usually depicted as a heron, but in the classic literature as a peacock or an eagle.

In the Roman army, Florian was a third century officer stationed in modern Austria. He was a military administrator of the town of Noricum, and a closet Christian. He is said to have stopped a town from burning by throwing a single bucket of water on the blaze, and thus his association with fire-fighters and those who protect us from fire, including chimney sweeps. When ordered to execute a group of Christians during the persecutions of Diocletian, he refused, and professed his own faith. He was scourged, flayed alive, a stone tied to his neck, and dumped into a river. Body was later retrieved by Christians and buried at an Augustinian monastery near Lorch. The relics were translated to Rome in 1138 and part of the relics were given to King Casimir of Poland and the bishop of Krakow by Pope Lucius III, which led to Florian’s patronage of Poland and Upper Austria.

Saint Florian’s patronage includes against battles and fire, Austria, barrel-makers, brewers, chimney sweeps, drowning, fire prevention, fire-fighters, and floods. He is represented in various ways, usually by a young man, sometimes in armour, sometimes unarmed, pouring water on a fire.

Other patron saints with patronage related to fires and fire fighting are Barbara, Eustachius (also: Placidus or Eustace).

The insignia of the fire service is the Maltese Cross (also: Cross Pattee-Nowy). This cross represents the fire service ideals of saving lives and putting out fires. The fire service borrows the cross from the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, which was a charitable, non-military organization that existed during the 11th and 12th centuries. The Knights of Hospitallers, as they were also known, because of their charity toward the sick and poor in setting up hospices and hospitals, adopted a white or silver cross on a dark background. Later they assisted the Knights of the crusades through their goodwill and also through military assistance in an effort to win back the Holy Land. The Knights of St. John eventually moved to the Island of Malta, The island for which the Maltese Cross was named. The need for an identifiable emblem for the Knights had become crucial. Because of the extensive armour which covered their bodies and faces, the Knights were unable to distinguish friend from foe in battle. They chose the Cross of Calvary as their symbol since they fought their battles for a holy cause. The cross was later called the Maltese Cross and represented the principles of charity, loyalty, chivalry, gallantry, generosities to friend and foe, protection of the weak, and dexterity in service. During the Crusades, many knights became fire-fighters out of necessity. Their enemies had resorted to throwing glass bombs containing naphtha and sailing their vessels of war containing naphtha, rosin, sulphur, and flaming oil into the vessels of the
knights. Many knights were called to do heroic deeds by rescuing fellow knights, and extinguishing fires.

The four arms represent the cross on which Jesus suffered, while the eight points symbolise the Beatitudes given on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-10):

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
  • Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.
  • Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the Earth.
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.
  • Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.
  • Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called children of God.
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

But I don’t go to any church, so how would I know….

In the Swedish case, the eight point stands for

  • Knowledge (kunskap)
  • Perserverance (uthållighet)
  • Ingenuity (skicklighet)
  • Discretion (takt)
  • Courage (mod)
  • Solicitude (omtanke)
  • Loyalty (lojalitet)
  • Assiduities (uppmärksamhet)