Just as a pharmacists have the mortar and
pestle and doctors have the caduceus, Emergency Medical
Technicians have a symbol, its use is encouraged both by the
American Medical Association and the Advisory Council within the
Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The symbol applies
to all emergency medical goods and services which are funded
under the DOT/EMS program.
Designed by Leo R. Schwartz, Chief of the
EMS Branch, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA),
the "Star of Life" was created after the American
National Red Cross complained in 1973 that they objected to the
common use of an Omaha orange cross on a square background of
reflectorized white which clearly imitated the Red Cross symbol.
NHTSA investigated and felt the complaint was justified.
The newly designed, six barred cross, was
adapted from the Medical Identification Symbol of the American
Medical Association and was registered as a certification mark
on February 1, 1977 with the Commissioner of Patents and
Trade-marks in the name of the National Highway Traffic Safety
and Administration. The trademark will remain in effect for
twenty years from this date.
Each of the bars of the blue "Star of
Life" represents the six system function of the EMS.
The snake and staff in the center of the symbol portray the
staff Asclepius who, according to Greek mythology, was the son
of Apollo (god of light, truth and prophecy). Supposedly
Asclepius learned the art of healing from the centaur Cheron;
but Zeus - king of the gods, was fearful that because of the
Asclepius knowledge, all men might be rendered immortal. Rather
than have this occur, Zeus slew Asclepius with a thunderbolt.
Later, Asclepius was worshipped as a god and people slept in his
temples, as it was rumored that he effected cures of prescribed
remedies to the sick during their dreams.
Asclepius was usually shown in a standing
position, dressed in a long cloak, holding a staff with a
serpent coiled around it. The staff has since come to represent
medicine's only symbol. In the Caduceus, used by physicians and
the Military Medical Corp., the staff is winged and has two
serpents intertwined. Even though this does not hold any medical
relevance in origin, it represents the magic wand of the Greek
deity, Hermes, messenger of the gods.
The Bible, in Numbers 21:9, makes
reference to a serpent on a staff: "Moses accordingly made
a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole and whenever anyone
who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent,
States and Federal agencies which have
emergency medical services involvement are authorized to permit
use of the "Star of Life" symbol summarized as
1. As a means of identification for
medical equipment and supplies for installation and use in the
Emergency Medical Care Vehicle-Ambulance.
2. To point to the location of qualified
medical care services and access to such facilities.
3. For use on shoulder patches worn only
by personnel who have satisfactorily completed DOT training
courses or approved equivalents, and for persons who by title
and function administer, directly supervise, or participate in
all or part of National, State, or community EMS programs.
4. On EMS personnel items - badges,
plaques, buckles, etc.
5. Books, pamphlets, manuals, reports or
other printed material having direct EMS application.
6. The "Star of Life" symbol may
be worn by administrative personnel, project directors and
staff, councils and advisory groups. If shoulder patches are
worn, they should be plain blue "Star of Life" on a
white square or round background. The function, identifying
letters or words should be printed on bars and attached across
the bottom separately. The edges of the basic patch and
functional bars are to be embroidered.
Special function identification and
physical characteristics must be adhered to when applying the
"Star of Life" to personal items, as follows:
a) Administrative and dispatcher personnel
must use a silver colored edge, and the staff of Asclepius
should be with a silver colored serpent. These items do not need
a white background.
b) The shoulder patches and other EMS
patches may be displayed on uniform pockets and the symbol can
also be placed on collars and headgear.