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Fire Apparatus Dictionary => Fire Apparatus Color Dictionary => Topic started by: mikewisner on October 16, 2006, 08:29:19 PM

Title: Color Red.
Post by: mikewisner on October 16, 2006, 08:29:19 PM
While this question maybe obvious to many but anyway How did red become the primarly traditional color of fire engines? Fire itself is more than less an orange color so I doubt it has anything to do with that. My only other guess is red might catch someones eye when they are rushing to a fire.

Also why do some FD's have black painted the drivers compartment or whatever you call it?

Last 1 reason I've heard FD's began using lighter colored engines are really easier to see especially at night. Do you think it works?
Title: Re: Color Red.
Post by: Box 2565 on November 17, 2006, 10:48:45 AM
Hi Mike,

Actually I'm not sure as to why red became the primary choice.  It seems obvious, but in the hand drawn era fire companies used a large variety of colors on their pumpers and reels.  I find it interesting that fire departments all across the U.S. have shifted back to using a non-traditional color for their rigs.  

Even in the early days of motorization many departments continued to use the color of their hand/horse equipment on the new machines.  Although red was the predominant color of apparatus, white and gray were popular color choices.  Many departments painted their apparatus maroon instead of a brighter "fire engine red".  This was common because the standard color used by American LaFrance was a dark maroon.  Since ALF was such a popular choice for apparatus, the use of maroon as a color selection could be found nationwide. San Francisco was noted for using maroon and returned to that color choice this year (although they had the roof painted white - I wish they had stuck with a solid color).

One of the more unusual colors that is seen these days is all black apparatus.  That choice isn't new either.  Even in the early days (teens and twenties) Springfield, Massachusetts was using black as their standard color.

The current craze for black-over-red comes out of the use of that color combination in Chicago.  Chicago F.D. began using black, cloth tops on their chief's cars in the 1930's.  When they began ordering closed cab apparatus a decision was made to paint the top of the cab black to match the automobiles.  That color scheme was also widely used in the suburban areas in Illinois and Indiana.  Living where you do I'm sure you see plenty of these rigs!   :grin:

In the 1960's and 70's you could find a few black-over-red paint jobs in other parts of the country, but it was rare.  For example Madison Township, Ohio (Montgomery County, near Dayton) purchased a 1966 Pirsch pumper painted black-over-red.  MTFD wasn't trying to copy Chicago, it just so happened that the pumper was a demo that had been displayed at the IAFC conference that was held in Chicago that year.  Pirsch decided to paint the rig in Chicago colors for the convention.

Advertising gimmicks can work really well at times.  The entire lime green/high visibility paint issue was thought up as a way to boost sales at Ward LaFrance.  This sales experiment was conceived in their advertising department.  WLF had an eye doctor say that the color was more visible at night.  No scientific study was put into this claim, it is simply based on how the eye and brain view and interpret color at various light levels.  Nobody went out and did any kind of testing to show that this color was actually safer or more visible.  Unfortunately, in what I feel was one of the greatest frauds ever perpetrated on the American fire service, the idea caught on.  To this day many people believe that this color is "safer" even though no testing has ever been undertaken that would verify the claim.

So, as far as I'm concerned, paint 'em red!

Steve
Title: Re: Color Red.
Post by: Box 2565 on November 12, 2008, 08:27:52 PM
Aberdeen, Ohio
1953 Reo/AFD
500 GPM - 750 Tank
Steve Hagy photo.
Title: Re: Color Red.
Post by: FiremanRW on September 05, 2009, 02:50:26 PM
Moulton, TX VFD Parade Truck
1955 Ford F750/Simms 500/250
Title: Re: Color Red.
Post by: FiremanRW on September 24, 2010, 11:50:50 PM
Waco, TX FD Aerial 1
1987 E1 Hurricane 110'
Title: Re: Color Red.
Post by: FiremanRW on September 25, 2010, 12:00:14 AM
Waco, TX FD Reserve Aerial 11
1979 Mack 100’
Title: Re: Color Red.
Post by: FiremanRW on November 16, 2010, 12:36:23 PM
McGregor, TX VFD Unit 1
1977 Ford F750/Boardman 750/500 F#2225
Title: Re: Color Red.
Post by: Engine33Truck on November 16, 2010, 01:02:56 PM
While this question maybe obvious to many but anyway How did red become the primarly traditional color of fire engines? Fire itself is more than less an orange color so I doubt it has anything to do with that. My only other guess is red might catch someones eye when they are rushing to a fire.

Also why do some FD's have black painted the drivers compartment or whatever you call it?

Last 1 reason I've heard FD's began using lighter colored engines are really easier to see especially at night. Do you think it works?

The way I've always been told is that when motorised apparatus were first invented, vehicles were mostly black, as Henry Ford stated: "People can have the Model T in any color, so long as its black.".  Personal vehicles were all black, while commercial trucks usually had a black cab with a dull silver or grey body, execept the milk man's vehicle which was white and blue lol.  So red would stand out like a sore thumb, so would white and grey.  Other colors like kelly green, which was used by Potomac Fire Company of Westernport, MD since 1934 would stand out as well.  Personally I never understood black, the color seems pointless as you can't see it at night, though red seems black at night.  Now lime green and stupid "safety" colors like that, no.  I agree with Box2565, that's the greatest fraud of the American Fire Service.  I can tell you first hand, its no more visible.  Red sticks out just as well.  Personally I like the white over red scheme.  This photo is what happens when you get bored when the second out piece beats the engine home.
Title: Re: Color Red.
Post by: Engine33Truck on November 16, 2010, 01:10:42 PM
The current craze for black-over-red comes out of the use of that color combination in Chicago.  Chicago F.D. began using black, cloth tops on their chief's cars in the 1930's.  When they began ordering closed cab apparatus a decision was made to paint the top of the cab black to match the automobiles.  That color scheme was also widely used in the suburban areas in Illinois and Indiana.  Living where you do I'm sure you see plenty of these rigs!   :grin:

In the 1960's and 70's you could find a few black-over-red paint jobs in other parts of the country, but it was rare.  For example Madison Township, Ohio (Montgomery County, near Dayton) purchased a 1966 Pirsch pumper painted black-over-red.  MTFD wasn't trying to copy Chicago, it just so happened that the pumper was a demo that had been displayed at the IAFC conference that was held in Chicago that year.  Pirsch decided to paint the rig in Chicago colors for the convention.

So, as far as I'm concerned, paint 'em red!

Steve
Black over red seems to be gaining popularity in the "far east".  Ridgeley, WV, New Creek, WV, and Smithers, WV all use black over red rigs.  So do certain elements of Wincester, VA; which New Creek's color scheme copies them, as NC's asst chief is a Wincester firefighter.  Raphine, VA uses it as well.  Personally I think it just looks better than all red.  Photo by me is by me of Smithers' Engine 67 in a parade in Oak Hill, WV.  It appears as if they're not running their lights, but their strobes and I did it with an iphone, which you often can only see a think, transleuscant band of light representing the strobe.
Title: Re: Color Red.
Post by: Engine33Truck on November 16, 2010, 01:12:51 PM
Say "NO" to black:

I mean, if this weren't on a brightly lit parade route and it wasn't running red (as in it was on scene), would you really see it?
Title: Re: Color Red.
Post by: thewhittingtons09 on February 07, 2011, 07:27:25 PM
The current craze for black-over-red comes out of the use of that color combination in Chicago.  Chicago F.D. began using black, cloth tops on their chief's cars in the 1930's.  When they began ordering closed cab apparatus a decision was made to paint the top of the cab black to match the automobiles.  That color scheme was also widely used in the suburban areas in Illinois and Indiana.  Living where you do I'm sure you see plenty of these rigs!   :grin:

In the 1960's and 70's you could find a few black-over-red paint jobs in other parts of the country, but it was rare.  For example Madison Township, Ohio (Montgomery County, near Dayton) purchased a 1966 Pirsch pumper painted black-over-red.  MTFD wasn't trying to copy Chicago, it just so happened that the pumper was a demo that had been displayed at the IAFC conference that was held in Chicago that year.  Pirsch decided to paint the rig in Chicago colors for the convention.

So, as far as I'm concerned, paint 'em red!

Steve
Black over red seems to be gaining popularity in the "far east".  Ridgeley, WV, New Creek, WV, and Smithers, WV all use black over red rigs.  So do certain elements of Wincester, VA; which New Creek's color scheme copies them, as NC's asst chief is a Wincester firefighter.  Raphine, VA uses it as well.  Personally I think it just looks better than all red.  Photo by me is by me of Smithers' Engine 67 in a parade in Oak Hill, WV.  It appears as if they're not running their lights, but their strobes and I did it with an iphone, which you often can only see a think, transleuscant band of light representing the strobe.
Brian
Smithers engine 67 is a mean black over red truck it has a 1000 gallon tank a 1250 gpm pump four crosslays 3 1 1/2 crosslays and one 2 1/2 crosslay i as 2000 ft of 5 inch supply line this truck is a beast and it doesn't  matter what color the truck is as long as it does the job we two other trucks that have white over red.
Title: Re: Color Red.
Post by: Engine33Truck on February 07, 2011, 08:40:21 PM
Brian
Smithers engine 67 is a mean black over red truck it has a 1000 gallon tank a 1250 gpm pump four crosslays 3 1 1/2 crosslays and one 2 1/2 crosslay i as 2000 ft of 5 inch supply line this truck is a beast and it doesn't  matter what color the truck is as long as it does the job we two other trucks that have white over red.

Of the many rigs I've photographed, Engine 67 is probably my favourite!  One of these days I'd like to get down to your station when I have time and take photos of the rest of the fleet.  All my photos of Smithers rigs are on SFD's facebook page, they'll be on here soon. In fact, I'll get on that now while it's on my mind.
Title: Re: Color Red.
Post by: FiremanRW on May 10, 2011, 09:05:25 PM
Beaver Creek TX VFD Engine 571 (Retired)
1975 Ford F750/Ward LaFrance 750/?
The truck was photographed in Burleson County behind the Black Jack VFD station. Black Jack was considering purchasing the engine at the time of the photo. It has since been purchased by a private owner.
FiremanRW photo
Title: Re: Color Red.
Post by: FiremanRW on November 24, 2011, 11:26:04 PM
Valley Mills, TX VFD Unit 72
1998 Chevrolet C7500/AgMeir 1000 tank
FiremanRW photos
Title: Re: Color Red.
Post by: FiremanRW on November 24, 2011, 11:27:37 PM
Valley Mills, TX VFD Unit 73
1985 GMC Top Kick 1000 tank
FiremanRW photos
Title: Re: Color Red.
Post by: FiremanRW on November 24, 2011, 11:29:46 PM
Valley Mills, TX VFD Unit 74
1988 Chevrolet Kodiak 70/Smeal 750/500
FiremanRW photos
Title: Re: Color Red.
Post by: FiremanRW on November 24, 2011, 11:32:25 PM
Valley Mills, TX VFD Unit 78
2004 Chevrolet C2500 Command
FiremanRW photos
Title: Re: Color Red.
Post by: FiremanRW on November 24, 2011, 11:34:08 PM
Valley Mills, TX VFD Unit 79
1986 International S1900 1000 tank
FiremanRW photos
Title: Re: Color Red.
Post by: Stationslave57 on December 06, 2011, 09:52:30 AM
While this question maybe obvious to many but anyway How did red become the primarly traditional color of fire engines? Fire itself is more than less an orange color so I doubt it has anything to do with that. My only other guess is red might catch someones eye when they are rushing to a fire.


As most of you know, fire companies were very competitive in the 1700 and 1800's (and most still are). To show off and try to gain status as a good company, they would lavishly decorate their apparatus. Up until the mid-late 1800's, red paint wasn't widely available and wasn't that dependable. When they found a way to make a good red paint, it was expensive because of the manufacturing process. Departments started painting their apparatus red because it was the most expensive color paint (and generally still is...ask any paint expert). This eventually just became the norm for depts to paint their rigs red. The competitiveness at the time is also why we still have gold-leaf on our trucks today. Just another way to lavishly decorate your apparatus to make it a status symbol. Hopefully this answers your question.
Title: Re: Color Red.
Post by: bulldogboy on December 07, 2011, 09:36:14 PM
While this question maybe obvious to many but anyway How did red become the primarly traditional color of fire engines? Fire itself is more than less an orange color so I doubt it has anything to do with that. My only other guess is red might catch someones eye when they are rushing to a fire.


As most of you know, fire companies were very competitive in the 1700 and 1800's (and most still are). To show off and try to gain status as a good company, they would lavishly decorate their apparatus. Up until the mid-late 1800's, red paint wasn't widely available and wasn't that dependable. When they found a way to make a good red paint, it was expensive because of the manufacturing process. Departments started painting their apparatus red because it was the most expensive color paint (and generally still is...ask any paint expert). This eventually just became the norm for depts to paint their rigs red. The competitiveness at the time is also why we still have gold-leaf on our trucks today. Just another way to lavishly decorate your apparatus to make it a status symbol. Hopefully this answers your question.

So that's why fire apparatus is so expensive; it's the red paint!!!

                                          bulldogboy
Title: Re: Color Red.
Post by: wlhilliard on January 11, 2012, 10:02:36 PM
B-4  2011 Ford F-350 Brush Truck.  125/100
Title: Re: Color Red.
Post by: FiremanRW on August 15, 2013, 11:13:49 PM
Robinson, TX VFD Grass 1
1991 Chevrolet C30 300 tank
FiremanRW photos
Title: Re: Color Red.
Post by: FiremanRW on August 15, 2013, 11:15:07 PM
Robinson, TX VFD Grass 2
1990 Chevrolet C30 300 tank
FiremanRW photos
Title: Re: Color Red.
Post by: FiremanRW on August 15, 2013, 11:17:23 PM
Robinson, TX VFD Tanker 1
2006 Kenworth/Klein 3000 tank
FiremanRW photos
Title: Re: Color Red.
Post by: photoman475 on September 18, 2013, 09:19:06 PM
The Chicago black and red may very well have some basis as Box2565's post says; however, that's not what I was told.  I grew up in the Chicago area, and it was
black = smoke, red = fire.

I suspect that the truth of why Chicago picked that particular color combination was chosen is lost to the mists of time.  All I know that is Chicago has been using that color combination for all my life-and I'm in my 6th decade. 

Title: Re: Color Red.
Post by: X Chief 1 on September 19, 2013, 04:21:50 PM
The color red is a tradition - -  yes, I know fire is mostly orange in color but it is referred to as "red".  The breast of the bird Robin is orange but it is called "Robin red-breast" - - I was in the fire service for 25 years and have seen about every color for an apparatus that ever was used; red/white/maroon/green/grey (Navy apparatus)/olive-drab green/multi-colors, on and on.  It is my opinion that the color of the rig makes almost no difference to anything but rather the lighting.  Studies conducted by several state patrols in several states suggest that people tend to steer in the direction in which they are looking; I feel that is probably more the concern.  While I'm on my
soap box may I say that I feel the fire service is rapidly loosing its concern for tradition - - apparatus with phone booths behind the cab and bodies that appear to be pop trucks.  What are we thinking?
X Chief 1
Title: Re: Color Red.
Post by: scottflynn101 on September 19, 2013, 05:35:30 PM
When my son and I visited many of Chicago's stations this summer-I asked the question about black over red.  Some of the guys said it represented the vinyl tops on the old buggies? Don't know for sure but did make sense.