Just as a pharmacists has the mortar and pestle and doctors have the caduceus, Emergency Medical Technicians have a symbol too. The symbol applies to all emergency medical goods and services which are funded under the DOT/EMS program.
The six barred cross, with serpent and staff that we know today, was designed by Leo R. Schwartz; Chief of the EMS Branch, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the “Star of Life” was created after the American National Red Cross complained in 1973 that the symbol being used prior to 1973 was clearly imitating the Red Cross symbol. It was an Omaha orange cross on a square background of reflective white.
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 Feb. 1, 1977.
Each of the bars of the blue “Star of Life” represents the six system functions of the EMS System, They are:
- On Scene Care
- Care in Transit
- Transfer to Definitive Care
The Staff on the star represents Medicine and Healing.
The snake and staff in the center of the symbol portray the staff Asclepias who, according to Greek mythology, learned the art of healing from the centaur Cheron. Asclepias 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.
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 or she recovered.