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Car Advisor Tamotsu Todoroki

Hi, this is Tamotsu Todoroki. I am a car advisor of
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Why are Fire Engines Red? - Vol.436

When you see a red truck driving down the street, odds are you know what it is. It's a fire truck, and it may be ingrained in you to move to the side when you see one of the big red trucks.

Have you ever wondered, though, why fire engines are red? There must be a reason why red was deemed the best color. But it seems that no one really has an exact answer to this question.

Keep reading to discover the theories behind the fiery color choice. Which one is the right answer? No one knows for sure, so you can be the judge.

Theory #1 - A Lesson in History
In the early 1900s, Henry Ford's cars were all over the roadways. But they were all black. He suggested the color for his Model T because it was durable and relatively cheap.

However, fire brigands wanted their rigs to stand out from the traffic. So they suggested red paint instead. This is not a verified fact, though. Merely a viable theory about how the red fire engines started.

Theory #2 - The Science of Color
Are red fire engines the most effective? Science says that is not necessarily true. While red lights are easier to see during the bright light of day, when it gets dark they are actually more difficult to see.

On the other hand, red is associated with danger in many cultures. So it may have made sense to paint fire trucks in the same color.

Furthermore, colors like lime green and bright yellow are actually more effectively seen in various light situations, and even in inclement weather.

Theory #3 - Volunteer Firefighters Got a Say
The final theory is really two, but they revolve around early fire brigades' unpaid firefighters. One theory is that the earliest fire departments consisted of volunteers. And since red paint was the cheapest to obtain back then, they painted all their vehicles in that color.

Another theory is that red paint was so expensive back then that people splurged on the paint for their vehicles as a source of pride.

Furthermore, this is a slightly different version of the previous theory. In the early days of firefighting, different independent brigades may cover the same areas. And there was generally fierce competition between them. To show their pride in their own brigade, the volunteer firefighters painted their rigs red because it was the most expensive paint available at the time.

Fire Truck Colors of Today
So why are fire engines still red? It may be because people have gotten used to seeing red fire trucks and local governments are reluctant to make changes. Also, it's costly to give fire trucks a new color so department finances may be another reason why they're still that iconic color.

However, while tradition may say that fire engines need to be red, many across the globe are starting to make changes. Nowadays you may see fire trucks in a variety of colors including lime green, black, yellow, and white.

Final Thought
Children learn about red fire trucks. And they are taught what to do and what's expected when they see one. However, one of the reasons why that color is still used is because of the association behind red fire engines.

In reality, the actual color doesn't matter when it comes to fire trucks. What matters more is that people recognize the vehicles for what they are.

For example, you can put reflector strips along a lime green truck for better visibility in any light or weather. But if drivers don't understand that it is an emergency vehicle, they may not respond appropriately.

So, fire engines may stay red for a while because there are many obstacles in the way of smooth color changes. Not only would local governments need to cover the costs of painting trucks in a new color, but they would also have to change preconceived notions about what a fire truck should look like.