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.

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?

Originally, many ambulances used an Omaha orange cross on a square background of reflectorized white to designate them as emergency units. This logo was used before national standards for Emergency Medical Personnel or ambulances were established. 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 the orange cross too closely resembled their logo, the red cross on a white background. The newly designed cross was adapted from the Medical Identification Symbol of the American Medical Association, which was patented by the American Medical Association (AMA) in 1967. The newly designed logo was patented on February 1, 1977 with the Commissioner of Patents and Trade-marks in the name of the National Highway Traffic Safety and Administration. The logo was 'given' to the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) for use as the emergency medical technicians (EMT) logo after the patent expired in 1997.

The Snake Emblem
The Rod of Asclepius, widely used as the symbol of medical care. There are several theories as to its development, and it is named for one of them. Asclepius was a figure in Greek mythology who possessed healing power. 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.

Symbolism
The six branches of the star are symbols of the six main tasks executed by rescuers all through the emergency chain:

  1. Detection – The first rescuers on the scene, usually untrained civilians or those involved in the incident, observe the scene, understand the problem, identify the dangers to themselves and the others, and take appropriate measures to ensure their safety on the scene (environmental, electricity, chemicals, radiations, etc.).
  2. Reporting – The call for professional help is made and dispatch is connected with the victims, providing emergency medical dispatch.
  3. Response – The first rescuers provide first aid and immediate care to the extent of their capabilities.
  4. On scene care – The EMS personnel arrive and provide immediate care to the extent of their capabilities on-scene.
  5. Care in Transit – The EMS personnel proceed to transfer the patient to a hospital via an ambulance or helicopter for specialized care. They provide medical care during the transportation.
  6. Transfer to Definitive care – Appropriate specialized care is provided at the hospital.

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 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.