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Emergency Medical Services: Historical Information

Image of the EMS Star of Life

The Star of Life

The blue "Star of Life" symbol was designed for the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) in response to the need for a uniform symbol representing the emergency medical services system. The Staff of Asclepius represents "Medicine and Healing." For EMS the six-barred cross represents the six system functions:

  • Detection
  • Reporting
  • Response
  • On-Scene Care
  • Care in Transit
  • Transfer to Definitive Care

Although some restrictions apply, the "Star of Life" can generally be used for emergency medical care services purposes.

History of EMS in Wisconsin

The state's EMS Section was created in 1968 under the leadership of Joseph Salzmann. Originally, this group of dedicated staff coordinated all EMT training in the state, with local physicians and other professionals providing the training. While training was not mandated by law until 1974, many ambulance attendants completed the 81-hour Department of Transportation (DOT)-approved course voluntarily.

In 1969, the first nationally recognized training course for EMTs was held in Wausau, Wisconsin, as a test site for the new DOT curriculum. The physician coordinator, Joseph D. ‘Deke’ Farrington, was an EMS pioneer from Minocqua. Among his accomplishments, he promoted the use of extrication, invented the spine board, and was responsible for the original 81-hour curriculum developed by Dunlap & Associates. He also encouraged many other physicians to become involved in EMS.

The most recent impetus for EMS improvements followed a report from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). A NHTSA technical assistance team audited EMS in Wisconsin, performed an evaluation, and listed several areas for improvement. This document led to the establishment of a Wisconsin Legislative Council Special Committee to review EMS in 1992. Their deliberations led to important legislative actions during the 1993-1994 legislative session, including the formation of the EMS Board, the EMS Physician Advisory Committee and the appointment of a State Medical Director. It also led to new personnel being identified for the EMS Section, recognized as the state's lead EMS agency. A follow-up review by NHTSA in 2012 created the most recent document, A Reassessment of Emergency Medical Services (PDF).

Wisconsin has a proud history in the evolution of EMS. The future holds new challenges for pre-hospital EMS in Wisconsin, including new levels of care, additions to approved treatments, and medications at the various levels of care.

Last revised January 13, 2022