The History Of The Star Of Life

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Star of Life Symbol History

The Star of Life is a blue, six-pointed star, outlined with a white border which features the Rod of Asclepius in the center, originally designed and governed by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) (under the United States Department of Transportation, DOT). Traditionally in the United States the logo was used as a stamp of authentication or certification for ambulances or EMS personnel. Internationally, it represents emergency medical services (EMS) units and personnel. A similar orange star is used for search and rescue personnel and yet another version is used for Wilderness emergency medical technician.


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 (EMS) logo after the patent expired in 1997. The Star of Life is featured on the logo of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.


The rod of Asclepius, also known as the asklepian,is an ancient symbol associated with astrology, the Greek god Asclepiuss and with healing. It consists of a serpent entwined around a staff. The name of the symbol derives from its early and widespread association with Asclepius, the son of Apollo, who was a practitioner of medicine in ancient Greek mythology. Asclepius was so skilled in the medical arts that he was reputed to have brought patients back from the dead. For this, he was punished and placed in the heavens as the constellation Ophiuchus (meaning "serpent-bearer"), the thirteenth sign of the sidereal zodiac. The snake and the staff, sometimes depicted separately in antiquity, are combined in this symbol.

The staff has also been variously interpreted. One view is that it, like the serpent, "conveyed notions of resurrection and healing", while another (not necessarily incompatible) is that the staff was a walking stick associated with itinerant physicians.


The Bible includes the Old Testament account of the Israelites being bitten by poisonous snakes. (Numbers 21:6-9) God commanded Moses to make a bronze snake and mount it on a pole. Then, anyone bitten must only look at the bronze snake and they would be healed.

Others attribute this snake symbol to the Greek mythological figure Asclepius, the son of Apollo. Asclepius was trained as a healer by Chiron the Centaur. Once, when he consulted a serpent about a very difficult patient, the snake coiled around his staff in order to speak with him as an equal. Later, Asclepius was slewn by Zeus, but because of his remarkable healing ability, people began to worship in his temples. Eventually, Zeus brought him back to life as a god.


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

  1. 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. The call for professional help is made and dispatch is connected with the victims, providing emergency medical dispatch.
  3. The first rescuers provide first aid and immediate care to the extent of their capabilities.
  4. The EMS personnel arrive and provide immediate care to the extent of their capabilities on-scene.
  5. 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. Appropriate specialized care is provided at the hospital.

More commonly, the 6 EMS aspects are represented as such:

  1. Detection.
  2. Reporting.
  3. Response.
  4. On scene care.
  5. Care in transit.
  6. Transfer to definitive care.


While no agency is tasked solely with enforcing its use as a mark of certification the Star of Life has traditionally been:

  • used as a means of identification for medical equipment and supplies for installation and use in the Emergency Medical Care Vehicle-Ambulance.
  • used to point to the location of qualified medical care services and access to such facilities.
  • worn as shoulder patches 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.
  • used on EMS personnel items - badges, plaques, buckles, etc.
  • used on books, pamphlets, manuals, reports or other printed material having direct EMS application.
  • worn by administrative personnel, project directors and staff, councils and advisory groups.

Furthermore administrative and dispatchers may use a silver colored edge, and the staff of Asclepius should be with a silver colored serpent.