Why are Fire Trucks Red?

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You might have seen fire trucks running on the road or at the scene of fire, hazmat, extrication or medical emergencies. But, have you ever speculated why fire trucks are always painted Red? Well, most of the people assume that the reason behind the intense, bright red color of fire trucks is that the color makes fire trucks easily identifiable in the pool of vehicles on the road, while some people link red color of fire trucks to fire. As a matter of fact, there is no universally-accepted and particular answer to this question. However, a few hypotheses are associated with the red appearance of fire trucks.

What is the Use of Fire Trucks?

A fire truck or a fire appliance is used for accomplishing firefighting operations. Often, the terms “fire truck” and “fire engine” are used interchangeably, but in some fire services/departments, they are referred to specific and separate types of vehicles. These emergency vehicles are fitted with mobile computer technology, communication equipment, visual and audible warnings.

The major purposes of a fire truck are:

  • Commuting firefighters to an incident scene.
  • Transporting equipment such as first aid kits, ground ladders, hoses, pump, etc., required by firefighters.
  • Providing water to fight a fire.

Interesting Fact About Fire Trucks

The “fire truck color” is referred to as “fire engine red” in many English-speaking nations. In the US, most old and traditional fire departments still paint their fire trucks with “fire engine red” color. As people have become used to seeing red-colored fire trucks, fire departments don’t find any point in changing the color of fire trucks.

Howbeit, this is not an official norm to paint fire trucks in red, and many fire departments prefer a color other than red for their fire trucks.

History of Fire Trucks

Richard Newsham, an English inventor, developed the earliest known fire engine in the year 1731. The engines invented by Newsham were capable of spraying 380 liters of water per minute and were colored in red. However, the reason why Newsham opted for red color for his fire engines is not known.

The earliest fire engines were small in size and were either dragged to the area of fire through skids or carried by four men. Gradually, as the size of the fire engines increased, they were drawn by the horses which enabled firefighters to respond quickly to fire incidents. After the invention of steam engines, these fire vehicles became self-propelled. The first steam-powered engine in the US was invented by John Ericsson.

Theories Associated with Red Color of Fire Engines

According to one of the theories, in the 1900s, the black paint used to be very durable and cheap. That’s why; Henry Ford colored his Model T cars in black color. Therefore, in order to make fire trucks stand out from the sea of black vehicles running on the road, fire departments opted for striking red color for their emergency vehicles.

Another theory claims that earlier, fire departments were comprised of unpaid volunteers. They painted all the emergency vehicles of fire departments in red because red was the cheapest paint available after black. Whereas some believe that since red-colored paint was the most expensive, volunteers painted fire trucks in red to symbolize these vehicles as a source of pride.

Is Red Color the Best Option for Fire Trucks?

In many cultures, red color stands for danger. Also, amongst all colors, red color has the longest wavelength in the visible spectrum. Thus, red fire trucks can be easily spotted from a distance.

Contrary to this, according to recent studies, human eyes are more sensitive to the greenish-yellow color having wavelengths between 510nm and 570nm. Moreover, during low-light conditions such as fog/haze or night time, people are more likely to pay more attention to a greenish-yellow fire truck than a red one.

According to a 4-year study conducted by James King and Stephen Solomon, a New York-based optometrist, in early mid-1970s, red fire trucks were involved in approximately three times more accidents than greenish-yellow trucks. Another study published in Australia in 1978 also supported the use of yellow painted emergency vehicles.

What Happens When You Ask “Why Fire Trucks are Red?” to Siri?

Siri’s answer will surely make you laugh as it gives a lengthy explanation of this question:

“Because they have eight wheels and four people on them, and four plus eight is 12, and there are 12 inches in a foot, and one foot is a ruler, and Queen Elizabeth was a ruler, and Queen Elizabeth was also a ship, and the ship sailed the seas, and in the seas are fish, and fish have fins, and the Finns fought the Russians, and the Russians are red, and fire trucks are always ‘Russian’ around.”