Emergency symbol: Controversy in BOS race

Eric Strucko is a compulsive volunteer. In designing campaign materials for his race to represent the White Hall district on the Board of Supervisors, he chose symbols to represent his community service: the Maltese Cross for his work at the Earlysville Volunteer Fire Department; an apple and books for serving on the boards of the Free Union Country School and the Miller School; a tree for his involvement in rural area preservation groups; and the Star of Life for his volunteer work at the Western Albemarle Rescue Squad.

It's his use of the last symbol– a registered certification mark of the U.S. Department of Transportation– that has some Republicans grousing in what Strucko derides as a "desperation" attack.

"I am offended by Eric Strucko's use of the Star of LifeĀ® symbol in his political ads and website," writes Spotswood Connelly, who serves on the Fire Service Board, in an email to The Hook. Connelly believes the symbol implies that the candidate has been endorsed by the emergency services community.

"To me, it's a generic symbol of the emergency squad," responds Strucko. "I'm a certified emergency medical shock trauma technician in the Commonwealth of Virginia. I'm a full member of a licensed rescue squad. I never intended to imply it was an endorsement."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has a booklet that details how the Star of Life may be used, and Virginia, too, publishes guidelines. "They list all the things you can use it for," says Connelly, "and running for Board of Supervisors is not one of them."

Connelly is "very strongly" Republican, but he says he'd be bothered if Strucko's GOP opponent, David Wyant, used a registered trademark on his campaign materials, and he notes that Wyant, an NFL official, isn't using the NFL logo.

The Strucko camp mentions a campaign photo of Wyant refereeing an NFL game with the Washington Redskins logo visible on a helmet. Could that imply an endorsement by the Redskins? No, replies Strucko. "Nor do I assume every rescue squad is endorsing me. For me, it's a certification."

Kostas Alibertis doesn't think it's a big deal. He's the chief of the Western Albemarle Rescue Squad where Strucko volunteers. "Every EMT has the right to use it," he declares. "It doesn't mean anything other than he has medical training."

The rescue squad is apolitical, says Alibertis, and does not support any person or party. He would have an issue with Strucko's use if he were not a member in good standing– "but he is a member in good standing who puts in his hours," Alibertis says. And within the squad, he has heard no complaints.

"That's one of those little battles I'm not getting into," says Wyant. "I'm going to focus on my campaign and on what I'm about, the person I am, and the qualifications I have."

However, Wyant campaign worker Jim Lansing doesn't like what he calls the "implied endorsement on literally everything Strucko's presented to the public."

He cites a Strucko letter with pictures of the Democrat in his fire outfit that mentions the number of emergency calls he's been on. "Certainly he's trying to emphasize his community involvement, and I think that's very good," concedes Lansing. "So why would he have to use the Star of Life?"

Lansing is bothered by something else in Strucko's use of the Star of Life. "I do know it's a registered trademark, and the little "R" in a circle is missing," he says.

"I just lifted the [Star of Life] symbol from clip art," says Strucko, who says he thought the image was generic.

This is not the first time Strucko has generated complaints for using symbols on campaign materials. The Republicans note that when he worked on Charles Martin's run for the House of Delegates in 2001, the secretary of the Commonwealth notified the campaign it could not use the state seal on campaign materials, and they had to cover them up with stickers.

"We thought it was okay because we saw it used on a lot of Republican websites," explains Strucko. "And because [Martin] was an elected official in Albemarle County, we thought using the state seal was appropriate. It was not."

As soon as the state told Martin he couldn't use it, "We removed it," adds Strucko.

NHTSA does not like to see the Star of Life used in political campaigns, says spokesman Tim Hurd, mentioning a candidate in a county coroner's race in Kentucky earlier this year. Because NHTSA found out about the symbol's use after the fact, no action was taken.

There's no statute prohibiting someone from using it, according to Hurd, but the government could ask a candidate to stop and then go to court to seek an injunction.

Strucko blasts Republicans for raising the issue so close to the election. "That material has been out there seven months," he says. "Those concerns should have been expressed earlier.

"I've worked hard and put in hundreds of hours– 14 hours a week– at the rescue squad, so I feel like I've legitimately earned a place in that organization," he says. "I intended nothing but to symbolize the sacrifice and hard work I've put in."

If Republican concerns about the trademark are legitimate, Strucko says, he won't use the Star of Life on future campaign materials.

He calls the whole issue "petty" in what had thus far been a civil campaign. "It's a sign of desperation by the opposition," he observes.

Eric Strucko says Republicans waited until the last minute to raise the issue of whether an EMT running for office can use the EMT symbol.


The Star of LifeĀ®