Fire Engine Red, White and… Green?

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Red has always been the traditional color people think of for a firefighter’s fire truck. In fact, tell anyone that something is “fire engine red” and they will immediately know what you are talking about. That brilliant red color that most people have seen racing down the street on a rescue mission, or played with as a kid might start seeing some changes.

In recent years, traveling to other towns and cities you may see that some fire stations have departed from tradition, and are choosing other colors for their fire trucks. One example, In Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the station sports it’s college pride with “Carolina Blue” fire trucks.

So where does the traditional “red” fire engine come from? Dated back to the 1800s, there was a lot of competition between fire brigades in neighboring towns. Each brigade took pride in standing out and creating the most regal fire engine they could. At the time, red was actually the most expensive paint and contrasted well with all the shiny brass equipment and adornments. A tradition was born.

Today, the discussion is less about tradition, and more about safety. Unfortunately, each year, there are thousands of injuries and even deaths that result from accidents that take place when the trucks are racing to an emergency scene. A recent study even found that 10% of firefighter on job deaths happen from vehicle accidents. Could changing up the color of the fire trucks help make them stand out more and ultimately reduce these accidents?

Latest studies in human visual perception show that we are most sensitive to greenish-yellow colors in dim lighting, making lime green the easiest color to see in low light. In addition, neon colors like orange and lime green are easiest to spot in daylight too. With this knowledge and their commitment to safety, some departments have already started to convert their “fire engine red” trucks to lime green and orange.

Will general traffic respond quicker to different color fire engines or the traditional red? We would love to hear your thoughts.

1 comment

  • Justin

    A Fire Company engine should be red and a Fire Brigade engine should be chartreuse. Plain and simple. Traditions need to be upheld. There is enough lights and reflective striping on a modern rig, you should be able to see it.

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