Iconic Moments

Iconic Moments

Professional Strides: The Star of Life (1977)

As EMS began to grow and professionalize in the early 1970s, officials with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) saw the need for a symbol that the public would recognize and associate with EMS. According to some histories of the symbol, NHTSA also needed to respond to requests from the American Red Cross to stop using an orange or red cross to designate EMS, as had been done previously.

Leo Schwartz, then the head of NHTSA’s EMS branch, researched and developed the EMS Star of Life—a blue star with six points, each representing a different aspect of EMS care. The traditional medical symbol of a serpent wrapped around a stick—known as the Rod of Asclepius—sits in the middle, forever linking EMS to the house of medicine. Today, the Star of Life is an internationally recognized symbol of EMS.