Why are Fire Trucks Red?

Typically, when you hear sirens, a flash of red will follow, but why are fire trucks red? Is it safety, tradition, or both? There are a lot of theories of why fire trucks are red, but fire departments today don’t always follow tradition, and there are engines that are lime-green, orange, and sometimes even blue. This article will explore the origin of fire engine red, the safest color, and how to choose the right color for your department. 

Origin of Fire Engine Red

Some guesses to the origin of fire engine red start with the color of the first cars. Ford released the Model T, which was painted black because it was the cheapest and most durable paint color.  Due to most cars being black, it was easy to distinguish cars and emergency vehicles with the bright red. Red was also the most expensive color at the time, which could’ve played a factor in departments picking their engine color. 

What is fire engine red?

Fire engine red is dependent on the shade of red that a fire department wants: bright, dark, or every shade in between. There are thousands of shades of red. As long as it is on a fire truck, it’s considered fire engine red.

What is the safest fire truck color?

Is red the safest color? Studies suggest that it isn’t, but why?  Red seems to be not as detectable or as effective as previously thought. According to American Psychological Association, “research shows that because the color-transmitting cones in our eyes don’t work well in the dark, some colors are easier for us to see at night. We are most sensitive to greenish-yellow colors under dim conditions, making lime shades easiest to see in low lighting.”  Being unable to see emergency vehicles at night is a safety issue for first responders, firefighters, and civilians. Many agree that lime-yellow is a more distinctive, highly visible color that should be preferred by departments. 

Different colors of fire trucks

Besides red, fire truck colors include:

  • Green
  • White
  • Blue
  • Lime Green 
  • Yellow

Check out the variety of paint colors on our apparatus in our recent deliveries.

Hawaii Xtreme Tac Tender
North Fork – Model 34
Northeast Teller Type 3 (Model 62) 
Lime-green Model 34 built for CAL OES
White Type 3 built for Diamond Valley FD located in Utah

Choosing the right color for your department 

Even with lime-green/yellow being considered one of the safest colors for an apparatus, many fire departments make a visual choice rather than a scientific one. Many departments may choose a color based on tradition, location, type of vehicle, etc. Either way, BME will ensure that your department finds a color that fits your need.