EMS patches history

scottishpatchEMS (emergency medical services) specifically refers to ambulance, rescue and first responder organizations, including police and fire departments due to their parallel roles as first responders. First response was originally linked to military evacuation of troops from the front lines during the American Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. As such, EMS patches have lingering military functions and connotations.

Though military ambulance services go back over two centuries, the creation of civilian EMS in the United Kingdom is directly tied to the establishment of the National Health Service in 1946. The National Health Service Act also dictated the establishment of county and borough emergency services, establishing the modern British EMS system. 142 ambulance services existed by the time the NHS was nationalised with the National Health Service Reorganisation Act in 1973. These services were further consolidated in 2006 and 2012, reducing the number of services and expanding their individual areas.

Some patches go back to Red Cross ambulance corps in WWI, and include companies that have been in business for over half a century. Their design reflects an amalgam of civilian (Boy Scouts) and military style patches in look and function. EMS patches include the medical rank or certification of the person with the patch. They may also include the wearer’s rank within the organisation, such as Captain, or role on the team, such as crew chief.

The design of EMS patches in the United Kingdom reflects medieval heraldic symbolism and is less elaborate than American patches, being fairly standardized. For example, the Scottish Ambulance service bears a crown over a shield with a St Andrew’s Cross. Also popular are the snake-and-rod symbol of the Caduceus, related to the legend of Asclepius, and golden boughs. Always prominent in the design is the person’s level of care certification. These elements are all critical to identifying the person and their role in the organization in an emergency situation.

redcrosspatchEMS patches may also have a red cross, particularly during wartime, related to the International Red Cross. This emblem is based on the Swiss flag. It is known as the “Greek Red Cross” and was approved in Geneva in 1863. The use of a symbol of a red cross on a white background (known as a St George Cross in the UK) goes back to the First Crusade. It originally symbolised someone who had taken the crusader vow and was later adopted by the Knights Templar. A red crescent for first responders also was first used by the Ottoman Empire in 1876 and is still used in Islamic countries. A red crystal was adopted by the Red Cross in 2005.

EMS patches are made and provided by a variety of companies, such as Stadri Emblems, The Emblem Authority, Safety Store and Siegel’s Uniforms . Most of these companies are relatively new, having been created in the past half-century in which EMS has formed. However, Siegel’s dates to 1897.

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