In an emergency, you’ll hear sirens and see flashing lights, but the colour of the emergency vehicle falls to the whim of the municipality, as demonstrated by the rainbow of fire trucks seen across Greater Victoria.
Oak Bay, Langford, Saanich, View Royal, Highlands and Esquimalt stuck to the traditional red, which has several rumoured origin stories of its own. Some speculate that red paint was either the cheapest or most expensive, while others suggest in the early 1900s that most Ford vehicles were black, so red stuck out.
Since then, most fire departments have stuck with red, or a colour scheme that includes it.
“The Sidney Fire Department emergency apparatus were originally red and white until 2002 when we purchased a new ladder truck,” said Sidney Deputy Fire Chief Mike Harman in an email. He said after that, a committee specialized the truck to change the colour scheme. “From that point on all new apparatus were red and black. We get a lot of compliments on the colour of our apparatus from people visiting.”
Other departments followed suggestions of a 1960s study that said red wasn’t the easiest colour for the human eye to see, especially in low light. Instead, a bright lime-yellow colour, fluorescent orange or white would be better options.
The Victoria Fire Department followed the study’s suggestion in 1969, and switched from red to “safety yellow.”
“The department thought it would be more visible, and be in less traffic accidents,” explained Deputy Fire Chief Dan Atkinson. “As you progress through time, we have much better technology in regards to reflective paint and lights. Now you could have a jet black fire truck that would light up like a Christmas tree at night.”
Atkinson said that despite the technological advances, the yellow colour stayed.
“In an interest of preserving history a lot of departments went back to their traditional red, but the Victoria Fire Department chose to stay yellow as it became a defining part of the department,” he said, “It’s unique to the region.”
Atkinson added that the only other region with the same lime-yellow-on-white colour scheme as Victoria’s was in Hawaii.
Colwood switched to white fire trucks for the same reason in 1964.
“White was the most visible, and it stuck,” said Colwood’s Assistant Chief Greg Chow, adding that Delta and Cowichan also have white engines. “You can find them in any colour though, I’ve seen them grape purple down in the States.”
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