The Star of Life is an Emergency Medical Service official symbol with a recent history, and is used on all emergency medical products and services funded under the DOT/EMS program and encouraged for products specifically for EMS personnel. The Star of Life was created in part to differentiate it from the cross symbol used by the Red Cross.
Adopted from the Medical Identification Symbol of the American Medical Association, the six-barred cross was registered with the Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks on February 1, 1977. Each of the bars of the blue Star of Life represents the six system functions of emergency medical services:
- On Scene Care
- Care in Transit
- Transfer to Definitive Care
The snake and the staff in the center of the Star of Life portray the staff of Asclepius who, according to Greek mythology, was the son of Apollo, the god of light, truth, and prophecy. According to legend, Asclepius learned the art of healing from Cheron, the centaur. But Zeus, king of the gods, was fearful that, with Asclepius’ knowledge, men might be rendered immortal. Rather than have this occur, Zeus killed Asclepius with a thunderbolt. Asclepius was worshipped as a god and people slept in his temples, as it was rumored that he could help cure the sick during their dreams.
Asclepius is usually shown in a standing position, dressed in a long cloak, holding a staff with a serpent coiled around it. The staff has come to represent medicine’s most recognized symbol. In the caduceus, used by physicians, the staff is winged, with two serpents intertwined. Although it holds no known medical relevance, it represents the magic wand of the Greek diety, Hermes, messenger of the gods.
The serpent on a staff also has a biblical reference. In Numbers 21:9, the Bible makes reference:
And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.
Used on coins for EMS personnel, the Star of Life is clearly the most appropriate symbol.