The Star of Life is a cross symbol used by the emergency medical services. It is commonly seen on ambulances and paramedic badges.
It is usually blue and features the familiar medical symbol in the centre; the Rod of Asclepius. (This was originally a pagan symbol but later adopted by Judaism, Christianity and Islam. See Serpent Cross.) The six arms of the Star of Life represent some of the aspects of emergency medical care:
- Detection of the problem
- Reporting to the appropriate professionals
- Response with first aid
- On scene care until transportation is available to take the victim to a place with better facilities
- Care in transit continuing the first aid treatment
- Transfer to definitive care handing over responsibility
The symbol was designed in 1973 by Leo R Schwartz, EMS Branch Chief at the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in response to concern that the Red Cross emblem was being mis-used by Emergency Medical Services (EMS). The symbol was trademarked by the NHTSA in 1977 for 20 years.
The symbol's popularity is gradually spreading and can be seen incorporated in logos of medical-related items, even when there is no clear EMS link. In time, it may lose its EMS identity, just as the Red Cross emblem became a common first aid symbol.