Star of Life

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The Star of Life represents emergency medical services such as ambulances.

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, paramedics or other EMS personnel. Internationally, it represents emergency medical services units and personnel.


Originally, many ambulances used a safety 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),[1] the Star of Life was created after the American Red Cross complained in 1973 that the orange cross too closely resembled their logo, the red cross on a white background, its use restricted by the Geneva Conventions.[2]

The newly designed Star of Life was adapted from the Medical Identification Symbol of the American Medical Association,[3] which was trademarked by the American Medical Association (AMA) in 1967. The newly designed logo was trademarked on February 1, 1977 with the Commissioner of Patents and Trade-marks in the name of the National Highway Traffic Safety and Administration (registration number 1058022). The logo was "given" to the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) for use as the emergency medical technicians (EMT) logo after the trademark expired in 1997.[4][citation needed]

The snake emblem[edit]

Main article: Rod of Asclepius

The snake emblem is the Rod of Asclepius, widely used as the symbol of medical care worldwide. There are several theories as to its development; it is named for the Greek mythological figure Asclepius, who was said to have possessed healing power.

It is often incorrectly depicted as a Caduceus (a staff with two snakes and a pair of wings), a wand carried by Hermes that, in Greek mythology, saw two serpents entwined in mortal combat. Separating them with his wand he brought about peace between them, and as a result the wand with two serpents came to be seen as a sign of peace and negotiation (not healing).[5]

Alternative theories for this symbol include it being a reference to a traditional treatment of a parasitic nematode called Dracunculus medinensis or Guinea worm. The worm was considered quite painful, as it causes blisters on whatever limb it takes up residence in. To remove the parasite, doctors would cut a slit in the skin right in its path and, when it poked its head from the wound, take a small stick and slowly wrap the worm around it until it was fully removed.[6]


Six points on the Star of Life

The six branches of the star are symbols of the six main tasks executed by rescuers all through the emergency chain:[7]

  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, radiation, 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.

Common use[edit]

An ambulance in Lausanne (Switzerland) marked with multiple Stars of Life.

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 personnel, equipment, and vehicles. Many ambulance services mark the symbol on their vehicles, and ambulance crews often wear the design as part of their uniform. It appears on various medical textbooks as well as on a wide range of merchandise aimed at the medic market. In hospitals and other buildings, elevators that are marked with the symbol indicate that the elevator is large enough to hold a stretcher.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Star of Life". Gorham EMS. Archived from the original on 2007-06-30. Retrieved 2007-06-29. 
  2. ^ "Star of Life - The EMS Symbol". South Dakota EMS. Archived from the original on 2007-07-11. Retrieved 2007-06-29. 
  3. ^ Universal Medical Identification Symbol. Am J Dis Child. 1964;107(5):439. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1964.02080060441001
  4. ^ "History of National Registry of EMTs". Archived from the original on 2007-06-07. Retrieved 2007-06-29. 
  5. ^ Tyson 1932:495
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Star of Life". Retrieved 2007-06-29. 
  8. ^ "Articles:Elevator Car Sizes". 2011-07-11. Archived from the original on 2011-07-11. Retrieved 2012-09-25. 

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