We see the "Star of Life" constantly,
whether it be on ambulances or uniforms. But, how many realize what this
symbol represents and how it was born? Not too many, judging from the random
survey I conducted after having realized I had no idea myself.
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 Trademarks 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 six "points" of the star
represents an aspect of the EMS System.
The staff on the star represents Medicine and
The snake and staff in the center of the
symbol portray the staff of 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 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 rumoured 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 Corps, 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:
- As a means of identification for medical
equipment and supplies for installation and use in the Emergency Medical
- To point to the location of qualified
medical care services and access to such facilities.
- 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.
- On EMS personnel items - badges,
plaques, buckles, etc.
- Books, pamphlets, manuals, reports or
other printed material having direct EMS application.
- 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 coloured edge,
and the staff of Asclepius should be with a silver coloured 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, July-August 1992
from Philipine Society of Emergency Medical Techinician (PSEMT) website -
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