Why Are Fire Trucks Red?

When you see a fire truck, chances are that one of the first things you’ll notice is its bright red hue. Is there a specific reason why Americans gave it such a vibrant color? We will need to take a journey through fire truck history to get our answer.

Visibility might have been important. Most cars were made by Ford in the early nineteen hundred and painted black because that shade was cheap. To make American fire trucks stand out in a sea of black, perhaps fire departments decided to paint them an expensive yet flashy red color. [1]  Firefighters also considered it a badge of honor.

Interestingly, a different theory for why fire trucks are red is directly the inverse. As the story goes, “Departments were composed of unpaid volunteers. They painted all the emergency vehicles of fire departments in red because red was the cheapest paint available after black.” [2] But no one really knows how much that color cost.

Illustration by Sarah Turner

Red also symbolizes danger in many cultures. For instance, “Do Not Enter” and “Stop” signs are painted red to warn drivers to stop and assess before continuing.

Fire trucks have a long and complex past. The reason for their color remains up for debate; either money or clarity was important when it came to decide how they should look. Regardless of the reason for their attention-grabbing coating, few people mistake the reputable red fire truck when out on the road.


[1]  Tiwari, Ashish “Why Are Firetrucks Red? ” Science ABC.” Science ABC, August 28, 2017. https://www.scienceabc.com/eyeopeners/why-are-firetrucks-red.html.   

[2] Why Are Fire Trucks Red – Theories Associated with Red Paint of Fire Engines.” Fire Science Degree Schools, February 4, 2020. https://www.firesciencedegreeschools.com/why-are-fire-trucks-red/. 

Originally published Summer 2020 Zealousness 16

Why Are Fire Trucks Red?
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