I always understood that being a firefighter was a dangerous occupation nevertheless I decided to follow in my brother's footsteps and go to school to one day join the fire service. I remember visiting my brother at his firehouse while in high school to celebrate holidays and birthdays with him while he was "on duty". I was always fascinated by the uniforms, the gear, equipment trucks etc., and I was deeply drawn in, especially seeing my last name on his jacket hanging in ready mode on the side of the truck. When the bells rang and lights flashed and the dispatcher sent all the firefighters running to the rigs to respond screaming through the streets as all other vehicles gave way to the oncoming trucks, I had such a rush run through me, and I wanted so badly to one day have my gear hanging on a truck waiting for me to throw it on and respond.
A short time after, I completed my training and I was celebrating completing fire school and preparing myself to begin the application process. It wasn't long before I was offered a position, and it was time to celebrate. My family and I went out and everyone was very proud that I had completed my training and that I was going to begin my career in the fire service. At the end of the evening my brother gave me a present, it was a gold necklace with a Maltese, it had a FD at the top, a ladder on one side, a hydrant on the other side, and a statue of a saint in the middle with "St. Florian Protect Us" embodying it. My brother did not say much about it, but I did know that he wore a similar necklace and charm. I never really looked into the meaning of St. Florian, I just figured it was a fire service tradition and he "protected firefighters" as the charm mentioned. As for the Maltese, I had seen it everywhere from FD patches, to stickers and designs and I obviously knew that it was a fire department symbol, so I was very proud to wear it.
I later learned that there was a much deeper connection to Saint Florian and the fire service. He was not just a saint of fire, or protector from fires, he stood for much more which gave him the title of "Patron Saint of Firefighters and Floods".
Florian was born around 250 AD during Roman Rule in a Roman city of Aelium Cetium, present day Sankt Polten Austria. He was a member of the Roman army advancing through the ranks to commander of the Imperial army in the province of Noricum. Among his many military duties, he was responsible for leading Roman army fire brigades. Florian was known for training the most elite soldiers whose sole purpose was to fight fires. Florian however, was a Christian at heart, and the Roman Empire did not tolerate the rise of Christian Doctrine. One of Florian's duties was to prosecute any Christians which included imprisonment or death. Word got out that Florian was not upholding his duties persecuting the Christians in the areas Florian was assigned and the Emperor sent a messenger to investigate the problem. When the emperor's messenger asked Florian why he was not fulfilling his orders, Florian replied, Tell the emperor that I am a Christian and I will suffer the same fate as the Christians. The messenger shocked by Florian's response, pleaded with him and even offered Florian a promotion to uphold the orders of the emperor, however, Florian could not be swayed. The messenger ordered that Florian be whipped and beaten and in response, Florian said he did not mind a "few scratches" for my beliefs and faith.
Enraged with the response, and fear that other Christians would rebel against the emperor, the messenger order Florian be burned to death. It is said that while standing awaiting his death by fire, Florian challenged the Roman soldiers by saying "If you wish to know that I am not afraid of your torture, light the fire and I will climb to heaven on the flames". After that response, he was ordered to be drowned in the Enns River with a rock tied to his neck. The Christians later retrieved his body and gave him a proper burial at a nearby monastery. He died in 304 AD.
Known for his elite training of firefighters, stories of Florian saving entire towns and villages with very little water (as seen in paintings, Saint Florian extinguishing fires with just a bucket of water), his unbeaten Christian faith and standing up to Evil with death imminent, Saint Florian embodies all the traits and qualities we live by as firefighters. As firefighters we know that running into a burning building could very well kill us, but we do our duty with the hope of saving/protecting someone in danger. Very well knowing that our death could be caused by the flames, we continue our mission praying we have God and Saint Florian protecting us. And if in our duties, the fire does take our life, then let us climb to heaven on the flames just as Florian said in the face of the fiery death ordered upon him.
Many miracles have come after the death of Florian when Florian was called upon. Fires crossing entire towns and villages, even people being saved from fire after praying Florian's name. Saint Florian is the Patron of Firefighters, fires and floods (Since he died from drowning). The Saint Florian cross is used in symbolism in the US and around the world representing the fire service, we know it as the Maltese cross. I am proud to say that I am still wearing my necklace holding my Saint Florian Maltese, and I try to maintain his beliefs and principles. I also believe that God and Saint Florian will protect me in my darkest hour. I hope this information sheds some light on the history of Saint Florian and the fire service.
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As always.. stay safe.