MUNDANE MYSTERIES: Why Are Fire Trucks Red?

A fire truck blazing down the road can create a ton of anxiety for anyone, as well as a ton of questions: “Where’s the fire?”, “Is it someone or somewhere I know,” and my main question, “why are fire trucks red?” Seriously, why ARE fire trucks red? Sure, red is an eye-catching color, but let’s be honest, most people notice fire trucks because of the flashing lights & sirens (since you hear it way before you see it). So why are fire trucks red?

One of the theories is that, back before automobiles became prevalent, fire trucks weren’t actually trucks but horse-drawn wagons, repurposed from farms to include firefighting equipment. The undercarriages of those wagons were painted red, since the color was an inexpensive & hid dirt & damage. So, when firehouses eventually adapted from wagons to trucks, they kept the same paint scheme, too.

That’s one proposition, but a more believable theory revolves around Henry Ford. In the early 1900s, Ford Model Ts (which were the most popular automobiles at that time) were only available in one single color: black. So, when fire trucks came about, red was picked as their color to make them stand out from all the black passenger cars.

Studies have been done to find the most effective color schemes for emergency vehicles, but those studies have had mixed results. For instance, lime yellow was found to be more noticeable than red. But lime yellow isn’t of much use to motorists if they don’t associate the color with danger or urgency. Whatever the true original reason for fire trucks being red in the first place, they remain red to this day simply because it’d be too difficult for our human brains to unlearn the association of “red means emergency”.

Got a Mundane Mystery you’d like solved? Send me a message via Twitter (@AndyWebbRadio), or shoot me an email at [email protected].

BROUGHT TO YOU BY: Berryville Graphics