Why Fire Trucks Are Red – Everything about a firetruck makes us stop and look at it. They’re big, bright, loud, and they carry brave people who save lives. But have you ever wondered why they’re red? The answer isn’t 100% clear, but there are a few theories out there.
– The “Volunteer” Theory The earliest fire departments in the 1800s were made up of volunteer firefighters. Since they were unpaid good Samaritans with hardly any funding, they didn’t have much money to spend on equipment, and that included the paint they’d use on their trucks. Back then, red was the cheapest color of paint you could buy, so they went with the budget-friendly option. The traditional red stuck, and today it could be a way to honor our first firefighters!
– Competition Another theory says that back when fire departments ran on volunteers, there was a lot of pride and competition between departments from town to town. Red was the most sought-after color because it’s bold and catches the eye. Departments wanted their trucks to stand out because they were a source of pride and unity. Think about the feeling of comradery you get when you wear your favorite football team’s colors—same idea!
– They couldn’t just be like other cars. In the early 1900s, Ford was the vehicle superstar. All the cars they sold were black. Fire departments wanted their trucks to stand out among the thousands of dark vehicles and wagons on the road. After all, the thing they’re driving should get some attention and priority, right? Well, red would do the job and still does today!
– The “Psychological” Theory To this day, we inherently associate red with an emergency or danger. Fire extinguishers, hydrants, STOP signs and lights – they’re all bright red like acherry. The color red alone can even increase your heart rate! (It also makes you hungry, which is why it’s the go-to hue for so many fast-food restaurants). Makes sense that firetrucks would be painted a color that psychologically puts you on alarm. You need to spot them quickly, really feel that sense of urgency, and get out of their way.
– The Color Theory Going off that psychological theory, this color one could explain exactly WHY red has become the standard for emergency vehicles,lights, and signs. We all know the colors of the rainbow and the acronym that helps us remember their order: ROY G. BIV. There’s a reason red comes first.
Scientists measure how quickly a color reaches our eyes in wavelengths. The higher the wavelength, the faster our eye catches that color. Red has the highest wavelength of all the other colors of the rainbow, so our brain registers it first. That way, a red emergency vehicle will automatically stick out among the rest.
While there’s not one definitive reason why most firetrucks are red, other color shave been used for them. Or at least, some are in the bag of ideas for a new firetruck color. For example, studies have shown that while that red hue reaches our eyes first in the daytime, it’s not best for at night. When it’s dark out, our eyes are better at seeing colors with a smaller wavelength like greens and blues.
Some cities have adopted one of these colors for their firetrucks instead of the traditional crimson! Other places have even more surprising colors like orange, pink, yellow, and lime green! Hey, don’t giggle yet – that might not be a bad idea, especially that last one! Researchers have found that red firetrucks are in 3 times more road accidents than those of other colors.
In fact, lime or yellowish-green seems to be the best color that accommodates our eyesight during both day and night according to one New York optometrist. So why haven’t we switched things up across the board? Perhaps it’s the psychological associations with red or maybe the tradition that’s held on so near and dear to our hearts. What do you think—should we change the color of our firetrucks or stick with red? What color would you pick? Let me know your take down in the comments! While you’re typing away, I’ve got some other cool firetruck facts to fill your plate:
1. What’s with the dalmatians? Ever wondered about the association between these monochromatic spotted canines and the fire department? These super-smart and trainable dogs were the first emergency sirens! Back in the days when fire engines were pulled by horses, a dalmatian would run ahead of them and bark loudly to clear the path. We have fancy sirens for that now, but plenty of departments like to keep the pooch around for tradition’s sake!
2. The earliest fire engine was from Ancient Greece. It was only a large pump in an aqueduct system that shot water, but the concept evolved in Ancient Greece. It took some 1,700 years for it to appear in Europe, where it developed into the horse-drawn fire engine. With Industrialization, the firetruck eventually grew into the life-saving, engineering marvel that we know today!
3. Fire Truck vs. Fire Engine We might use the terms interchangeably, but they’re two different things. The fire engine is what brings the pumps and hoses to the scene, while the truck delivers all the ladders in case they’re needed. The fire engine usually arrives at a fire first since it has the water and hydraulic equipment needed to fight the fire, plus any chemicals that could help. The truck transports all the firefighters to the scene, along with all their safety equipment.
4. The Ladders Firefighters are trained to go up sky-high on these ladders. But no worries – they’re built to remain stable in 50 mph winds! We tend to think of fires as something that happens out in the country or the woods, but they occur in skyscrapers too. Nicknamed the Bronto, short for Brontosaurus, these ladders can get firefighters up to 300 feet in the air! Just don’t look down…
5. The Pumper, Tanker, and Ladder Trucks When you see a fire engine and a firetruck at a scene, there are really 3 different kinds of firefighting superpowers between them. The pumper truck holds the big fire hoses and helps connect them to the fire hydrants. The tanker truck holds a large tank of water, just in case something goes wrong with a fire hydrant. The ladder truck, well, it’s got the Bronto, of course!
6. That price tag, though! These trucks are a huge piece of machinery built to help save lives. Such an important vehicle comes with a hefty price tag. Not to mention, they must be equipped with the latest technology, and they need regular maintenance to stay in tip-top shape. Depending on what equipment it carries and how big the firetruck is, they cost between $500,000 and $1,000,000!
7. How Big Are They? When I said they’re a “huge” piece of machinery, I meant it!Firetrucks can be up to 42 feet long and weigh an astounding 40 tons. New York firefighters train for 2 weeks to learn how to drive these giants. Part of their training uses a virtual simulator and an obstacle course that they must pass.
8. The Fastest Firetruck in the World It’s called the Hawaiian Eagle, and get this: it’s rocket-powered! It holds the record for the fastest firetruck in existence, and it can reach speeds of up to 407 mph. Flames actually shoot out of the back of it!It’s not used to fight fires anymore, but it’s still pretty mind-blowing!
9. Water vs. Foam It takes a lot less foam to put a fire out than it does water. Chemically, it’s way more efficient—foam suppresses the flames better than water, and it keeps whatever’s fueling the fire from coming in contact with more oxygen. Having foam inside those hoses instead of water makes them lighter and easier to handle too.
10. Surprising Horsepower A firetruck alone is heavy, plus it carries a ton of equipment. You may assume that there should be loads of horsepower under the hood so that the truck can get to scenes quickly. Surprisingly, the average firetruck only has around 500 horsepower!
11. The Lights and Sirens. It’s a little-known fact that the flashing lights and super loud siren are on the fire engine, not the truck. Since the engine goes ahead of the truck, it needs to be the one with all those visual and auditory signals so that everyone can get out of the way for the firetruck and the firefighters it’s carrying.
Also, all the blinding lights and deafening sirens shouldn’t disorient the brigade—they need to be at their best when they arrive on the scene so that they can put out that fire! Bottom Line: Firefighters rush into danger when everyone else is running away. That’s why they deserve our respect and our thanks.