What is the Star of Life?

B. Schreiber

The star of life is the symbol for emergency medical services workers and vehicles. It is a six-pointed star of solid blue. In the center, it features a white snake coiled around an upright staff or rod, also of white. In the United States, it can be applied to ambulances and other certified emergency vehicles that meet federal criteria for licensing. It commonly appears on other items related to emergency response.

The star of life is an insignia worn by paramedics.
The star of life is an insignia worn by paramedics.

The U.S. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) created the symbol as a means of identifying emergency personnel and emergency services in general. Emergency services loosely refers to a number of groups and individuals able to provide emergency care. The NHTSA still retains the rights to the star of life. It was inspired in part by a symbol used by the American Medical Association.

The star of life might be painted on an ambulance or first responder medical gear.
The star of life might be painted on an ambulance or first responder medical gear.

Each point of the star of life signifies a function of emergency medical services. These are usually given as detection, reporting, response, on-site care, care in transit, and transfer to definitive care. Together these points represent the basic mission emergency responders, from first aid through transfer to a medical facility such as a hospital.

The symbol at the center of the star of life has roots in Greek mythology. It is called the staff or rod of Asclepius, who was the Greek god of healing and medicine. The staff and serpent are now a sign of medicine in general. It also acts as a sign of the medical profession and is used by many American health organizations as well as others around the world.

The star of life symbol is now recognized in many other countries as the sign of emergency medical services. It is often used in literature produced for or by organizations of emergency responders. In addition to vehicles, it also appears on uniforms and emergency medical equipment. The star may appear on road maps or road signs to indicate where emergency services can be found.

Some regions vary as to where the star of life appears on emergency vehicles. Most often it appears on the sides, roof, or back of ambulances. Like other emblems used on ambulances, the star of life is usually made of reflective material. It is only allowed to be used on certified emergency vehicles. Licensed emergency vehicles must meet basic design requirements and are also required to carry flashing warning lights and a public address system.

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