Wednesday, May 18, 2016

History Watch: “Yellow is the New Red….Or is it?”

History Watch:
Yellow is the New Red…..Or is it?

San Rafael Fire Department engines have been painted red since the beginning of time.  Even the horse drawn buggies that were used before motor vehicles were painted red.  But somewhere along the line San Rafael’s fire engines suddenly started to turn yellow.  How did this happen and why?  Was there a particular reason for it and when did it all start.  Believe it or not, there was one particular day that yellow became the new red.  It all started on a summer morning on August 26, 1960.
It was Friday and the J. B. Rice Hardware Company, located at West Francisco Blvd. and Rice Street (there was no Rice Street back then) had been open for business for several hours.  At about 10:00 AM a small fire started in the back of the building.  Employees tried to control the blaze but they could not and they got everyone out of the structure.

The San Rafael Fire Department was called and Engine 2 (known as Engine 52 today) from the Montecito Fire Station was one of the first on scene.  Upon arrival it appeared that the fire would be a small one, but flames managed to reach some flammable items in the store and the fire took off with great speed.  Additional fire units were called but the fire burned so fast and hot it soon became apparent that it would be difficult to save any part of the building.

As the fire progressed, a general alarm was sounded.  Firefighters watched as the entire building became engulfed in smoke and flame.  The flames were so hot that two cars parked by the building started to burn.  At that point firefighters realized that they had made a tactical error when parking Engine 2.  Upon arrival, they parked the engine too close to the building and flames heavily damaged the vehicle as it was too hot to move it to safety.

After it was all over, there stood a shell of a building and one partially destroyed fire engine.  Instead of buying a new one, the city decided to have the engine repaired and six months later it reappeared and was assigned back to the Montecito station, with one major change.  The engine was now yellow and it stood out among the other red fire engines.  Over the next 53 years, San Rafael’s fire engines slowly turned from red to yellow as they either got refurbished or replaced.  The theory was that engines had better visibility if they were yellow.

Then in 2013, the City of San Rafael ordered two brand new engines.  One was assigned to the main fire station and the other went to the Montecito station.  But what a shocker, both of these fine new engines were red in color, reversing a 53 year trend.  And that is how San Rafael’s fire engines went from being red to yellow and back to red again.  Let’s face it, red looks a whole lot better.

Attached are two photos of the J.B. Rice fire.  One was taken from the top of San Rafael Hill and the other was taken from street level, showing two cars about to be engulfed in flame.  The lot where the building was located is still vacant to this day.

Copyright 2016 Harry Barbier – All Rights Reserved

J.B. Rice Fire  -8-26-60
J.B. Rice Fire - 8-26-60