EMS Badges: Origin and Meaning of the Star of Life

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EMS Badges: Origin and Meaning of the Star of Life

Before the widespread use of the now iconic Star of Life, many ambulances used the Omaha Orange Cross – a blocky cross in safety-orange on a square, reflective white background – to designate ambulances as emergency vehicles. However, in 1973 the American Red Cross protested that this symbol too closely resembled their own, trademarked logo.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration intervened and agreed. And so the EMS Branch Chief Leo R. Schwartz designed the Star of Life that same year. The new logo was trademarked in 1977. When the trademark legally expired in 1997, it was "given" to the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) for use as by emergency medical technicians (EMTs).

Omaha Orange Cross and American Red Cross

Elements of the Star of Life

The Star of Life is a blue cross with six arms on a white background, with each arm of the star representing a primary task to be performed in emergency medical situations.

  1. Detection. The identification of the medical emergency (often by civilians on the scene) and the immediate dangers to anyone nearby, and the attempt to help ensure safety on the scene for when other medical personnel arrive.
  2. Reporting. The call for help and brief description of the situation (usually via 911 and dispatch).
  3. Response. The immediate attempt to provide first aid care of anyone at the scene (again, often civilians) to the best of their abilities, and the expedited mobilization of appropriate first responders to the scene.
  4. On Scene Care. The diagnosis of the situation and provision of care and first aid by EMS personnel when they arrive on the scene.
  5. Care in Transit. The transportation of the patient by EMS personnel to a hospital via ambulance or helicopter, and the additional medical care the EMS professionals provide to the patient while in transit.
  6. Transfer to Definitive Care. The transference of the patient(s) from the ambulance or helicopter to medical personnel in the hospital for continued and specialized care.

In the center of the star is the Rod of Asclepius. In Greek mythology, Asclepius learned the art of healing from a centaur. The widely recognized staff and serpent of Asclepius represents a time Asclepius consulted a serpent for help with a patient he was unable to cure. The serpent coiled itself around Asclepius’s staff in order to be eye to eye with him as an equal when it gave Asclepius its advice – the patient ultimately survived.

Worn & Displayed with Pride

Since the 1970’s, the Star of Life logo has been used nationally to identify EMS personnel and EMS apparatus. It can be seen on ambulances, badges, patches, signs, medical equipment and textbooks. It’s a symbol with deep, rich meaning – and it’s worn and displayed with pride by EMS professionals across the country.

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