History of the Emerald Society
In America , the history of police and fire department
Emerald Societies is relatively short, in comparison to the
history of the Irish immigration. In the early days of America ,
the Irish were not always welcome. They were the first ethnic
group to live in the slums of the larger cities. They were also
the first ethnic group to be discriminated against in their
search for jobs. The Irish were mainly limited to low paying,
hard labor jobs.
Two professions the Irish immigrants were drawn to were police officers and firefighters. Both of these careers were considered undesirable due to low pay, few benefits, and poor working conditions. The Irish gladly took roles in these professions because it was a way to become a part of mainstream America , and it was a way to give back to their new country. By the early 20 th century, the Irish were not only immersed in the police and fire departments, but they were in charge of them. The Irish transformed the job of night watchman and fire watch into the organized police and fire departments of today.
Over the years, the Irish started many of the traditions that are still in existence today. The Irish-American police officers and firefighters would march in full uniform at various parades, including the St. Patrick's Day parade. These men were very proud of their Irish heritage, and equally proud of being a police officer or firefighter.
The public perception of the Irish cop or firefighter in the neighborhood was more than a stereotype; it was a fact. Up to the mid 20 th century, the Irish dominated the police and fire departments. These departments were largely made up of Irish born or 1 st or 2 nd generation Irish. The Irish produced more chiefs of police and fire departments than any other ethnic group in America . In order to celebrate the Irish identity and heritage, the Irish members began to form a cultural brotherhood among its memberships.
In 1953, the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) formed the first Emerald Society within an American fire department. The society was formed to help foster the spirit of the heritage within its members and to promote and preserve their accomplishments. In the last half of the 20 th century, there has been the growth of hundreds of Emerald Societies across America .
Since its humble beginnings 50 years ago, the Emerald Society movement has reached new heights. The Irish have a long and proud history of Public Safety professions. A glance through the rosters of any fire department in America will be filled with Irish names. Unfortunately, so will the walls dedicated to the men and women who gave their lives in the service of the fire profession. The Emerald Society is here to preserve that legacy!
* Thanks to Patrick F. O'Brien of the Nevada Emerald Society
The Maltese Cross
The badge of firefighters is the Maltese Cross. The cross is
a symbol of protection; a badge of honor; and its story is
hundreds of years old. When a courageous 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 European
warriors. It was a simple but horrible device of war. The
Saracen's weapon was fire.
As the Crusaders advanced on the walls of the city, glass bombs containing naphtha struck them. When they became saturated with the liquid, the Saracens hurled a flaming torch into their midst. Hundreds of Knights were burned alive; others risked their lives in an effort to save their brothers from painful fiery deaths.
These men became our first firemen and the first of a long list of courageous firefighters. Their heroic efforts were recognized by fellow Crusaders who awarded each hero a badge of honor, a cross similar to the one firefighters wear today. Since the Knights of St. John lived for close to four centuries on the island of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea, the cross came to be known as the Maltese Cross.
The Maltese Cross is a symbol of protection. It means that the firefighters who wear it are willing to lay down their lives for us, just as the Crusaders sacrificed their lives for their fellow men so many years ago. It is a firefighters badge of honor, signifying the he or she works in courage, a ladder rung away from death.