After reading this article in Allegheny West Magazine it got me to thinking why are fire engines red?
The most widely accepted reason fire trucks are painted red dates back to the 1800s, a time when there was a lot of competition between fire brigades of neighboring cities & towns. The firefighters of each brigade took great pride in their pumps. Each brigade wanted their rig to stand-out by being the cleanest, having the most brass or being a regal color. Red being the most expensive color, which is the color most crews chose to paint the pump. Other sources cite the tradition of painting fire engines red, going back to the early 1920s. Henry Ford wanted to make cars as inexpensively as possible and only offered cars in one color; black. With all of these black vehicles on the road, the fire service began painting their vehicles red in an effort to stand out.
Are there other colors that would be better for emergency vehicles?
The answer is yes!
In the human retina there are two types of photoreceptors, rods & cones.
Rods are responsible for vision at low light levels (scotopic vision).
Cones are active at higher light levels (photopicvision), and are capable of color vision and are responsible for high spatial acuity- the ability to resolve two points in space.
Our eyes are sensitive to a very narrow band of frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum. This narrow band of frequencies is referred to as the visible light spectrum. Visible light that is detectable by the human eye – consists of wavelengths ranging from 780 nanometers (nm) down to 390 nanometers (nm).
The most visible wavelength is 555nm which comes out to a color part-way between green and yellow. Which is why you now see fire trucks and other emergency vehicles and equipment with either reflective decals that neon green color painted on them. Emergency workers such as EMTs or firemen and road crews wearing clothing with neon green and reflective trim. This makes them more visible.
1885 Ahrens Steam Pumper No.433