We all know how a firetruck looks. We also know what a firetruck does and why we need firetrucks. Have you ever wondered though, why are firetrucks red? This is true almost everywhere in the world, and since it’s something that most of us are used to seeing quite often, it makes sense that we don’t think about the reason behind this choice that much. Well, we did some research and collected the 4 most popular explanations of why firetrucks are red. Let’s have a look!
Why Are Firetrucks Red? – 4 Explanations
One of the first explanations of why firetrucks are red dates back to the earliest days of the fire department. At that time, people wouldn’t work there for a wage, but volunteer instead. Since this means they didn’t have that much money, they chose to paint the firetrucks with the cheapest paint they could find, which happened to be red.
Another completely different theory states exactly the opposite thing. This one also relates to people volunteering to be firefighters, but connects this to a sense of competition among firefighters from neighboring towns. According to this theory, they were competing for the status of the best fire department in the area, and firetrucks had a lot to do with this. Which is why they bought the most expensive paint they could find (red), in order to show to everybody that they could afford it, and use this as a source of pride.
The third answer to the question “Why are firetrucks red?” seems to be more plausible than the other two. This one states that the reason why firetrucks were painted red is because they should be able to stand out from the rest of the vehicles. In the 1900s, the car manufacturer Ford only sold black cars. Because of this, fire departments wanted to use a color that would allow firetrucks to stand out and would ensure that people will be able to see them better. While this makes complete sense, it’s worth wondering whether or not red is the best color that can make a firetruck stand out. The answer might be no. Other colors such as lime green or yellow are more visible after it gets dark out.
If you were to ask Siri the question “Why are firetrucks red?”, you’d be surprised by the answer. Don’t expect the explanation to be accurate, but only to make you have a good laugh and marvel at how sassy Siri can be at times. Here’s her explanation:
Because they have eight wheels and four people on them, and four plus eight is twelve, and there are twelve 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.
Should Firetrucks Be Red?
Now that we’ve seen the most popular answers to the question “Why are firetrucks red?”, we think it’s also worth exploring whether or not they should be red. According to a study conducted by Lt. James D. Wells Jr. and published in 2004, while red lights are easy to spot during the day, they’re quite difficult to see at night. The study focused on the red and blue lights that we see on emergency vehicles. It asked the question of whether they’re easier to spot on the road or not. Even if we’re talking about lights vs. paint, isn’t it natural to suppose that the same results can also be applied to red paint on a firetruck?
Another study, this one conducted in 1965 by the Coventry Fire Brigade and Lanchester College of Technology, shows that yellow or lime green are easier to see at night, and even during bad weather. In the U.K., fire departments seem to have taken this study very seriously. As a result, they included retroreflective yellow markings on the rigs of their firetrucks. In the U.S., this is happening as well. More and more firetrucks in small cities and suburbs are sporting these yellow markings.
A study published in 1995 by James King and Stephen Solomon, an optometrist, encourages changing the color red of firetrucks and replacing it with lime yellow. The study looked at the Dallas Fire Department files. Then, it reported that red firetrucks crashed three times more often than white or lime yellow ones. Now, the Dallas Fire Department has lime yellow firetrucks.
Does Paint Color Matter in the End?
With all these studies, what is the conclusion that we can reach? Well, before we do reach one, we should mention yet another study. This time, this one seems to be going in the opposite direction. The study we’re talking about was conducted by the U.S. Fire Administration in 2009. While it acknowledges previous studies and how the color yellow is easier to spot than the color red, it states that color is not as important as how well people can associate it with a firetruck.
Since the color red has been a staple of firetrucks from the very beginning, people are less likely to associate a yellow vehicle with a firetruck. In the end, we must mention that there is no regulation concerning a certain color of firetruck. Moreover, it doesn’t seem like things will change in the near future.
We might never know for sure the answer to the question “Why are firetrucks red?”, but what we should know is that this is not a rule that applies everywhere. As such, the best thing to do is pay attention to any large vehicle with a gaudy color. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the red we know so well or not.