This month, the subject is "lime." Our guest is
collector and non-red apparatus buff John
Mike: What is the history of lime as a color for fire
John: "Lime" was
developed by Ward LaFrance in 1971. That year, a new president
had been appointed. The guy was a marketing whiz, but didn't
know anything about fire apparatus. One of his questions was
"why Ward LaFrance?" Why would someone buy one of their
rigs, when all fire trucks were about the same? So the company
compiled a list of over 30,000 fire departments. Then they
sent out a survey, asking about engine, frame, pump, cab, etc.
When the results were returned, nobody asked about color. Why?
Because fire trucks were always red.
J: Exactly. Around this
time, a report on visibility and colors was released by a
research company in D.C. Seems red is one of the least visible
colors in the spectrum. However the report needed credibility,
so Ward LaFrance found Dr. Stephen Solomon to vouch for the
thing. He was an optometrist and volunteer fireman from Owego,
NY. And they were learning other things as well, like the fact
that more firefighters were injured or killed traveling
to fires versus fighting them.
M: Marketing angle and safety issue.
J: The next step was
finding a fire chief to try the color. Chief Bernie Koeppen
from Wheeling, IL, agreed to have his department's new
Ambassador pumper painted lime. The truck, Spec Number 80-625, was unveiled at
the IAFC convention at St. Louis in September 1971. It became
a hit and Ward LaFrance began heavily
promoting lime as a safer color for fire apparatus. The
rest is history.
M: I've seen everything from bright yellow to what
looks like fluorescent green. How many different shades of
lime are there?
J: Hundreds, maybe
thousands. For myself, I don't count the yellow-yellow of
FDNY. Lighter yellows (Boston, MA)
and lighter greens (Metro
Dade, FL) are pushing it just a tad, but I accept them as
well as fluorescent versions, such as Fox Lake, IL.
M: Who still runs lime-lime?
J: Every department that
is smart. Metro Dade still runs lime, as do most airports.
Many smaller departments know lime is prime, too.
M: How about other notable non-red schemes?
J: In Florida, Seminole's old Omaha red and Clearwater's German red are special.
Fox Lake, again, too. And don't forget the Charlottesville-Albemarle
Rescue Squad in Virginia and their German red over white.
M: Is there a shade of lime that even you
think is ugly?
J: All lime is glorious.
Some is less glorious than others, like Verplanck, NY.
M: Who is Richard Gergel?
J: Richard is the man.
He helped with the background information for this interview.
He sold the first lime fire truck for Ward LaFrance and was
later president of the company. He's also authored or
co-authored three books for Iconografix on Ward LaFrance,
Imperial, and, coming in November, American fire apparatus.
He's working on a fourth, on the subject of Pemfab.
M: So did lime turn out to be more visible as
J: Just ride on the
highway and watch the oncoming lane. What do you see first, a
yellow truck or a red truck? Try it in different lighting and
driving conditions. Yellow is good, lime is prime.
M: If it was safer, why did so many departments
revert back to red?
J: Alas, traditionalist
elements in various fire departments gained the upper hand
after an FDNY apparatus study in 1984. After painting 11
engines yellow-- not lime-- in 1981, the department discovered
a 58 percent increase in accidents over the red ones. I
say the study was flawed, because the trucks were placed in
statistically inappropriate parts of the city by
traditionalist chiefs who wanted to see the study fail. So
they repainted the trucks red. As did many other departments
who went back down the slippery slope to red.
M: Was there a psychological factor as well? People
registering a big, loud, flashing vehicle as a fire truck when
J: They hear the
siren and see the lights with any colored truck, but with
lime, the whole rig acts as a warning. Notice that people
don't seem to have a problem with different colored police
M: Do other countries use lime?
J: British police and I
believe Switzerland. Also New South Wales and New Zealand
experimented with lime.
M: Has lime found other uses, in addition to
J: Lime is making a
tremendous comeback. Look at the new bright lime street signs.
Look at the bright lime vests and clothing for EMS workers. I
ask you, what sense does it make to be wearing all this safe,
bright lime stuff and get off an almost invisible-- at least
at night-- red fire truck???? It is insanity!!
M: What are your favorite lime trucks of all time?
at Chicago O'Hare, of course. Other favorites: Somerville, MA Wagon 6 (Diamond
Reo), Medford, MA Engine 6 (Ford / E-One), Arlington, MA
lighting plant (only lime piece in the department), Malden Emergency Center Rescue 2 (Mack
B), and anything from Boston, Fox Lake, Fort Drum, or Metro
M: What are your favorite lime models from Code 3?
Angeles Engine 51 and Windsor
Engine 10. The Dearborn Heights
Quantum is a sleeper.
M: How about from other die-cast companies?
J: Corgi San Francisco
'scope, Corgi O'Hare hummer, Corgi Long Lake E-One, Vitesse B
Mack (two of them), Hobbytown Newark squad, Hobbytown Maxim S,
Matchbox Super King Hackensack chief's wagon, every lime First
Gear ever made, and one or two others.
M: And if Orlando is reading, what's your most
desired lime truck to make into a model?
and LAFD RA 51. Both are prime.
John Antonelli can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mike Legeros can be contacted
Both welcome your comments, questions, or corrections.
A version of this column originally appeared at
Code 3 Collectibles.
Copyright 2017 by Michael J. Legeros