Like many industries, technology has made a significant impact on fire truck design and manufacturing, including the selection of apparatus color and graphics. The advancements and resources developed by the dedicated members of the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association (FAMA) have helped put the most technologically advanced, functional, and safe fire apparatus and equipment into service today.
Over the years, technology advancements have transformed color and graphics options, improved the ease of selection, and produced efficient installation processes. There are a few key areas of focus that have been recently brought to the forefront pertaining to color selection and graphics trends.
FIRE TRUCK PAINT HAS EVOLVED
As with the evolution of many manufacturing processes, innovation has made it possible to achieve optimal precision and superior outcomes when it comes to the fire apparatus painting process. Precision mixing allows painters to combine paint and the activator (which is a catalyst that is required for paint hardening and drying) in real time. When this process is implemented, it is beneficial because ratios are always accurate, waste is limited, and human error is eliminated.
Fire apparatus corrosion is always a consideration for fire departments in wet, damp, or wintery climates where the increasing use of liquid deicing agents, road salts, and chemicals is a concern. While the painting process plays a significant role, the incorporation of coating processes like galvanizing or electrodeposition coating (e-coat) adds a protective layer designed to improve corrosion protection on steel components that have become more widely requested.
GOING BEYOND RED
There are a few theories about why fire trucks are traditionally painted red. Some believe that fire engines dating back to the 1800s were painted red because it was the most expensive color, and competition among brigades made each want to stand out. Others believe that in later years, fire engines were painted red to stand out among the mainly black vehicles on the roads.
“Fire Engine Red” is still the most popular color choice and has been used on thousands of fire apparatus over the years. However, color selection comes down to individual department preference, and in many instances, it’s all about standing out.
Beyond red, other popular fire truck colors, include:
- White (with added graphics)
- Lime green
- Charcoal gray
- Metallic gray over various reds
Fire departments requesting a “blackout” package (without chrome on an apparatus’s exterior) has been on the rise. This treatment serves multiple purposes, including the muting/distressing of grilles, bumper, rims, and other areas of the truck that are typically chrome to blend in with the apparatus’s color scheme. Additionally, the products used in the blackout packages make surfaces easier to clean by decreasing the need for general polishing and offer corrosion-resistance properties.
SELECTING MULTIFUNCTIONAL FIRE TRUCK GRAPHICS
Not all fire departments have the same needs when it comes to graphics selection. Decisions are often based on geographic and environmental factors, safety requirements, and designs that reflect the personality of the community served or pay tribute to an individual or organization. With the aid of the latest computer software, talented artists, graphics designers, and technicians can bring just about any image to life on a fire apparatus.
Emerging graphics trends include the following.
Striping to match color scheme: According to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards, fire departments are limited in the color of reflective chevron striping placed on the rear of the vehicle. There is high demand from departments requesting that this striping meet not only safety requirements but also complement the color and graphics scheme of the apparatus. One of the NFPA public comments for consideration around this standard is that the NFPA loosen these restrictions, allowing departments more flexibility in options for chevron striping in the future.
Getting personal with mud flaps: Departments are now incorporating names, unique messaging, quotes, and other graphics with a personalized feel on mud flaps running the length of the rear of a fire truck.
Incorporating Insurance Services Office (ISO) class logos: ISO’s Public Protection Classification (PPC) program measures the effectiveness of municipal fire suppression efforts in communities around the country and helps insurance companies determine premiums for property owners in those communities. Some fire departments are now choosing to proudly incorporate graphics that display the department’s ISO class logo to make residents aware of their standing.
Collegiate branding: Fire departments have begun collaborating with local colleges or universities to show support for the institutions at the center of their communities. In some areas, funding is provided to the department to pay for a fire truck’s graphics package, and the department, in turn, shows pride by branding the truck with the college or university’s colors, logo, graphics, and messaging.
Full wraps: Whether it’s a mural that showcases the local community or pays tribute to a part of history, fire departments are selecting full wraps to accomplish large-scale or full-coverage graphics, variations to traditional paint coatings and textures, and more.
Refining a classic with variations to gold leaf: With the help of technology, the use of traditional gold leaf lettering on fire apparatus has certainly evolved over the years. While there are now comparable, less costly alternatives, gold leaf is still a popular, iconic choice for many fire departments. As fire truck paint colors and color schemes have diversified, gold leaf is now available and highly requested in alternative hues, including white gold.
Custom graphics and tributes: Advancements in software make it easier and more economical for fire departments to incorporate custom graphics on any apparatus. In the past, department graphics requests would have been hand-painted on the apparatus. Today, artists or graphics technicians can create images, which are then scanned and optically printed. With a digital image, a mirror image can be produced and expertly applied to the opposite side of the truck, if necessary.
In a profession where tradition runs deep, color and graphics are areas of the fire apparatus design process where a fire department can reflect on its legacy and show dedication to the country and community it serves. In addition to FAMA’s many contributions to the industry, the organization has developed a whitepaper (https://www.fama.org/resources/sign_view/) to provide fire apparatus manufacturers with standardized product safety sign text and artwork for common hazards.
For additional fire service resources developed by FAMA, check out the Buyer’s Guides at https://www.fama.org/fire-service-resources-list/.
FAMA is committed to the manufacture and sale of safe, efficient emergency response vehicles and equipment. FAMA urges fire departments to evaluate the full range of safety features offered by its member companies.