Lemon Aid? Study Says Red Firetrucks Are Too Hard to See

By Patrick E. Gauen Of the Post-Dispatch The contributed information to this story. | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), May 4, 1995 | Go to article overview

Lemon Aid? Study Says Red Firetrucks Are Too Hard to See


Patrick E. Gauen Of the Post-Dispatch The contributed information to this story., St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Why do firemen wear red suspenders? To hold up their pants, of course.

And why do they drive red firetrucks? To hold up their traditions.

But is red the safest color?

A question about the paint on emergency vehicles has reared its yellow-green head again in a new report that says the nation's fire engines ought to be the color of potent lemonade.

That color is considered one of the most visible in the spectrum, distinct at a great distance. Red rates low by day and is down with black for night vision, according to studies of past years.

The latest driving force for changing colors is Dr. Stephen Solomon of Owego, N.Y., an optometrist and volunteer firefighter who says that equipment painted lime yellow - which some call lime green - would reduce accidents.

He writes in the spring issue of the Journal of Safety Research that red or red-and-white fire engines were involved in three times as many accidents as lime yellow trucks over a four-year period in Dallas. That city had some equipment painted each way. The statistics parallel a 1984 study by Solomon.

Such safety concerns visited the St. Louis Fire Department in the 1970s, when the whole fleet turned green, along with the faces of many of the firefighters who had to ride them.

"Fire engines are supposed to be red," traditionalist Neil J. Svetanics said in an interview shortly after becoming fire chief. When the time came for him to buy a whole new fleet of pumpers, ladder trucks and rescue squads, they were red.

Capt. Ralph Break, safety officer for the St. Louis Fire Department, said Wednesday the city lacks statistics to compare its experiences with yellow and red.

Anyway, it is the array of red-and-white warning lights, sirens and blaring air horns - not the body color of the truck - that commands right-of-way, Break said. "If we were not convinced that the lighting protects us, we would consider other colors," he noted. …

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