STAR OF LIFE
Each of the six "points" of the
star represents an aspect of the EMS System.
On Scene Care
Care In Transit
Transfer to Definitive Care
The staff on the star
represents Medicine and Healing.
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
Each of the bars of the blue "Star of Life" represents the six system
function of the EMS, as illustrated below: The capital letter "R" enclosed in
the circle on the right represents the fact that the symbol is a "registered"
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 clock,
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 diety, 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, he recovered.
Who may use the "Star of Life" symbol? NHTSA has exclusive rights to monitor
its use throughout the United States. Its use on emergency medical vehicles
certifies that such vehicles meet the U.S. Department of Transportation
standards and certify that the emergency medical care personnel who use it have
been trained to meet these standards. Its use on road maps and highway signs
indicates the location or access to qualified emergency care services. No other
use of the symbol is allowed, except as listed below:
States and Federal agencies which have emergency medical services involvement
are authorized to permit use of the "Star of Life" symbol summarized as follows:
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
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
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.
This article was taken from Rescue-EMS Magazine,
THE STAR OF LIFE