If you’ve worked as either a professional or volunteer firefighter, you’ve probably picked up a firefighter challenge coin or two from either your department or municipality. Fire departments were among the first organizations to begin adopting challenge coins from the military for their organizations and firefighter challenge coins are used today as organizational mementos by fire rescue groups throughout the country. Like their peers in the military, these coins are effective symbols of group solidarity invoking their organization’s identity and pride through unique designs. 

For some fire rescue clients, finding the right symbols to represent their firehouse on a challenge coin comes easy. But, it’s just as often a daunting task coming up with a custom design that appeals to your entire fire department. Fortunately, All About Coins has your back. This post will help walk you through advice and inspiration for designing custom firefighter challenge coins.

Drawing Inspiration From Firefighting Symbols

One of the most daunting tasks to designing any challenge coin is deciding the symbols you want on a coin. After all, a firefighter challenge coin is meant to unify and the images you choose must contain themes firefighters around a station will identify with. Luckily, firefighting has a very long history and culture surrounding its profession.

Tapping into the illustrious history and culture of firefighting can be a fount of inspiration for firefighter coins which tend to depict recognized symbols ranging from the Maltese Cross to Dalmatians along with more localized symbols or landmarks that give a fire department’s coin a localized character. In our experience, some of the most iconic firefighting symbols include:

  • The Color RedIt’s the color most commonly associated with firefighters, paying homage to both the blazes they engage and their red fire engines. It’s so iconic, “Fire Engine Red” is its own color shade
  • The Maltese Cross By far one of the most common elements found of firefighter challenge coins, the eight-pointed Maltese Cross has roots as far back as the Crusades and is used today as a symbol for the bravery and selflessness of firefighters.
  • The Fire ScrambleA grouping of firefighter tools often arrayed into the shape of an improvised Maltese Cross to represent the preparedness of firefighters. A “scramble” often includes classic fire rescue tools such as fire axes, ladders and helmets.
  • Dalmatians Once used to calm horses as they pulled fire wagons toward a blaze, Dalmatians have long been official firehouse dogs and many firehouses still keep the dogs as companions and mascots. 

Localizing Firefighter Coins

When “localizing” firefighter challenge coins, we mean picking design elements and customizations identifying a coin with specific rescue units, fire departments or individual firehouses. Localizing a coin doesn’t just include adding images of a familiar landmark or in-joke, but also paying homage to a firefighter’s specific role or responsibility. For example, firefighters specializing in handling hazardous materials often include images of stylized skeletons or HAZMAT masks to reflect their role. Adding local flair to a coin turns a coin into a distinct mark of membership and team unity, transforming a department’s coins from nondescript firefighter tokens to Fire Station 70’s unit coin or the Orlando Special Operations Unit coin.

Common elements that help to localize a challenge coin include:

  • Community landmarks: These can range from landmarks significant to the fire department or simply a major landmark in the city. For example, the New York City Fire Department coin includes a stylized shot of the Empire State Building as part of its central design.
  • A favorite firehouse mascot: As mentioned, it’s common to see Dalmatians as a fire department’s mascot but many local fire rescue organizations may also use their own characters to better reflect their locale, role, or overall philosophy as an organization. For example,
  • Any local Fire Rescue Icons: From pictures of a local firehouse or fire engine to images of a firefighter from your station in full gear, there are few ways more effective to add a localized design than to include a firehouse icon recipient will recognize as their own. While others may not recognize one fire truck from another, it’s immediately noticeable to the people who work on it every day.

Make it Your Own

More important than anything else when designing a firefighter challenge coin is to make the design a reflection of your own fire department. Firefighters develop close-knit cultures in their professions as they work together to save lives and prevent disaster and their challenge coins are more than just decorated metal, they’re a physical expression of their individual pride and duty as fire rescue workers protecting their communities.

Whether your department has created a fully-rendered sketch of a design or you have a few ideas but no idea how to put them on paper, All About Coins is happy to work with you at every step of the design process to create unique challenge coins for firefighters and other emergency workers. At the end of the day, the greatest source of inspiration will come from you and the people you work with every day but you can trust us to levy a full team of professional artists to turn that inspiration into designs that will impress.