Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Symbol of EMS: the Star of Life

The Star of Life - a little bit of history
Do you recognize this symbol? Chances are you have seen it on an ambulance, a med-flight helicopter, perhaps on one of your local fire units or volunteer search and rescue vehicles. It stands out, especially at night due to the reflective white background. Most of the Emergency Medical Personnel have some version of this symbol on their uniform.

Did you know each part of that blue logo has a meaning?

The Star of Life is a familiar part of emergency medical services, but it wasn't always so. Before the blue star came along, an orange cross on a white background was the common badge of EMS units. That changed in 1973 when the American Red Cross said that the orange cross was too similar to their red one, which was governed by the Geneva Convention. EMS was in the midst of major changes from the 1966 report, "Accidental Death and Disability: The Neglected Disease of Modern Society", also referred to as the "White Paper". Advanced LIfe Support (ALS) systems had been springing up across the country, starting with the Freedom House Paramedic established by Dr. Peter Safar, the Miami Dade Fire Department, and the Los Angeles County Fire department (made famous by the television show 'Emergency!').

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration came up with a new design to symbolize the new EMS. Dr. Leo Schwartz, in charge of the EMS branch of the NHTSA,created and named the new logo the "Star of Life". It was modified from a medical symbol, and patented on February 01, 1977.

The snake climbing the rod is the Rod of Asclepias, and is taken from medicine. The six branches each have a meaning. Starting at the top and going clockwise they are:

1) Detection - a person usually untrained civilians or those involved in the incident, observe the scene, understand the problem, identify the dangers to themselves and the others, and take appropriate measures to ensure their safety on the scene (environmental, electricity, chemicals, radiation, etc.).

2) Reporting - the 911 system is activated, dispatch is connected with the victims, providing emergency medical dispatch. 

3) Response - first responders arrive and start providing initial treatment.
4) On Scene Care - EMS professionals arrive and take over care (BLS and/or ALS care).

5) Care in Transit - EMS professionals continue to provide care while transporting patient(s) to the hospital via ground or air.
6) Transfer to Definitive Care - the patient(s) is transferred to the hospital ER / Trauma hospital for further treatment, freeing the EMS for the next call for service.

The NHTSA allows ambulances and EMS personnel to use the symbol for official purposes. They actually have specifications for color and sizes for the symbol. That is not to say that one won't see a white ambulance with an orange cross any longer. The military uses this style, but then their units fall under the Geneva Convention.

At least, we no longer see ambulance personnel wearing all white uniforms.

Six points on the Star of Life

Stay safe out there

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