Fire Rescue News – 70s throwback: Lime-yellow fire trucks fade out

Pinellas Park Fire Department has decided to change vehicle colour from yellow-green to deep red according to an article written by Anne Lindberg in The St Petersburg Times and reflects the personal view of at least 60% of the department’s firefighter’s. Subsequently, a second article,  published around the same time in Fire Rescue News (FRN)  is another genuine example of the growing trend for emergency services to uphold the traditionalist view to ignore and sublimate proven research. There is little doubt that the Pinellas Park firefighters are sincere in their choice to return to deep red coloured fire vehicles.

What is different about the Pinellas articles is that they discuss in great detail the reasons behind the majority decision in the ranks and return to the dark red coloured vehicles. The magazine articles refer to last year’s FEMA visibility study as a major influence in their decision to change colour. The articles from Pinellas are recommended reading as most emergency agencies usually just briefly announce their new vehicles to the press but very few agencies willingly provide valuable insight as to why they decided to change colour.

I recently mentioned in an online webinar presentation that followed the release of the FEMA Emergency visibility and conspicuity study that certain generalised statements and recommendations made within the study document may possibly be open to misinterpretation. Those same recommendations may well be repeated later to aid and substantiate an alternative viewpoint that is not best practise. This type of  misinterpretation is usually unintentional and quite predictably is the result of a broad-speaking FEMA report choosing to exclude the fine detail to maintain brevity. The main recommendation that was taken from the FEMA report and then quoted in the Fire-Rescue articles as the example used in the report of vehicle colour recognition. This statement referenced yellow school buses, US Postal Service vehicles (white), Fedex courier vehicles (white) and the UPS courier vehicles (black). It is certainly true to say all of these vehicles are easily recognised, due in part to the life experience of other drivers and national TV advertising.  The frequent stopping habits of the vehicle operators listed in the last sentence are well known to the public but the major differences are that these civilian vehicles are never driven at emergent speeds, don’t have to pass carefully through intersections against red lights or perform blocking manoeuvres on busy highways. Most of the vehicles in the example are actually coloured either white or yellow; all high-contrast safety colours. I don’t think however that you could possibly extend the safety analogy to the black UPS truck as being of a safer colour, although many police agencies with black & white cruisers may try to put up an argument based on the concept of recognition!

One of the fundamental principles of visual safety relates to the use of high-contrast colours on emergency vehicles and these colours may be combined with an element of flourescent colour to maximise conspicuity and visibility. The common high visibility colours are fluorescent green-yellow, chrome yellow or white (but white only if it is paired with a fluorescent colour). European agencies often use fluorescent reddish-orange colours on their vehicles where there is heavy snow cover over much of the year. While the red-orange colour performs very well during daylight hours it can deteriorate to become dark grey or black under low levels of illumination or at night. Many european agencies now combine red-orange with a yellow-green base colour.

Pinellas Park is switching to a deep [non-flourescent] red which turns dark-grey to black at night and can blend into the shadows during the day. The red fluorescent/reflective colour scheme (mentioned in the FEMA report and referred to in the Pinellas articles) was fitted to a trial Mercedes wagon by ICE Ergonomics (UK). The retro deep red colour chosen by Pinellas is totally different to the ICE reflective red Mercedes treatment mentioned in the FEMA report. An Air Services Australia comparison report available on the Ambulance Visibility website clearly shows the difference in conspicuity between a green-yellow and red airport fire vehicles. The high contrast colours are perceived in the peripheral vision much earlier than dark colours (read a vehicle approaching from the side or at an intersection) and they visually resist merging into the shadows like dark colours. Seeing and reacting earlier to an emergency vehicle leaves more time for other drivers to process an avoidance strategy.

Please read the articles, form your own opinion and post a reply with your views!


About John Killeen (Ambulance Visibility)

John Killeen is a former Intensive Care Paramedic who authors the Ambulance Visibility research website & blog
This entry was posted in Ambulance, Chevrons, Emergency vehicles, EMS, Fire, Fluorescent colours, High Visibility, Markings, Reflective, Research and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Fire Rescue News – 70s throwback: Lime-yellow fire trucks fade out

  1. Pingback: The Tug of Tradition

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