Saint Florian was born roughly around 250 AD in the Roman city of Aelium Cetium (now known as Sankt Polten, Austria). We know very little of his early life, only that he joined the Roman Army as youth and quickly advancing the ranks, eventually being bestowed command of a full legion in the Roman province of Noricum. At that time, fires were expected to be put out by the local populace being affected but Saint Florian organized and personally trained an elite group of Roman Soldiers whose only duty was to extinguish and prevent fires.
In the early 300s, the Roman Emperor Diocletian began his great persecution against Christians living in the Roman Empire. Christian senators, equestrians, decurions, veterans and soldiers were stripped of their ranks and could not challenge any actions brought against them in court. In the East, Christians were often burned alive where as judges in the West favored various types of execution for any Christian refusing to make Pagan sacrifices. Churches were destroyed, public gatherings banned and any scriptures found were to be immediately destroyed.
When reports reached Rome that Saint Florian was not enforcing these persecutions in his territory, the Emporer sent Aquilinus to investigate. Once he arrived in the province, he immediately ordered Saint Florian to offer sacrifice to the Roman gods - to which Saint Florian likewise immediately refused. Saint Florian responded to Aquilinus:
“Tell the Emperor that I am a Christian and will suffer the same fate as the Christians.”
Aquilinus once more offered an escape by proposing a promotion to Saint Florian if he would abandon his faith and offer the sacrifice. When Aquilius received his final No, he sentenced Saint Florian to death - by incineration on a stake.
Once the pyre was built and Saint Florian placed upon it, he challenged the soldiers standing ready by shouting:
"If you wish to know that I am not afraid of your torture, light the fire, and in the name of the Lord I will climbe onto it."
The soldiers, afraid of his words, instead executed him by tying a millstone around his neck and drowning him in the Enns River. A peasant would later have a vision of Saint Florian in her dream, asking her to have his body properly buried in a better location and so his remains were located and moved to the Augustinian Abbey of Saint Florian near Linz Austria. In 1138, the Pope Lucius III gave some of the saint's relics to King Casimir of Poland and to the Bishop of Cracow thus ensuring Saint Florian would become the Patron Saint of not only Firefighters but also of Poland and Krakow.
Citizens of the Catholic portions of the German Empire regularly chose his name as their first born's given name to secure the Saint's help and protection against fire leading to the name being very widespread in portions of Bavaria and Austria. In Krakow, Saint Florian's church survived a fire untouched even as the same fire torched the entire neighborhood around it. In portions of Germanic speaking areas, a call fore a fireman is pronounced as a call for Florian. In Germany, Austria and Central Europe, anyone using the word "Florian" in an emergency broadcast is known to be requesting firefighters on scene.
In the 1870s, a devout group of Catholic immigrants left Germany and settled in Alabama, naming their town Saint Florian.
The feast of Saint Florian is May 4th, the same as the international firefighter's day.