What Do FDNY Helmet Shield Colors Mean? Reason & History

The Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) has a few different colored helmets. And these helmets have different colored shields on them. 

So what does the FDNY helmet shield color represent? 

Different shield colors are meant to represent different companies. Black, the most common color, is used by the engine company. While red is used by the ladder company, green by the marine unit, blue by HAZMAT, yellow by the squad company, and orange by trainees. 

Each company has a different color and that is not random, each of these colors symbolizes the company. The history of the helmets themselves and the significance of the colors of the shields are discussed in detail in this article. 

What Type of Helmet Does FDNY Use?

FDNY helmet
Source: firerescue1.com

The Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) uses a variety of helmets depending on the roles. So what helmet is used by firefighters? The most common helmet used by firefighters in the FDNY is the traditional leather helmet. 

The common FDNY helmet is often referred to as a “New Yorker” or “Brodie” helmet. This type of helmet is known for its distinctive shape and provides good protection from falling debris, heat, and flames.

The traditional Brodie helmet is typically brown or black. But some fire departments, including the FDNY, have added reflective strips to their helmets. This is to make firefighters more visible during nighttime operations. 

This safety feature helps other firefighters locate and keep track of their team members in low-light conditions.

Additionally, some FDNY firefighters have personalized their helmets with decals or stickers.

However, some FDNY firefighters also use modern helmets made of lightweight materials, such as thermoplastic. This offers additional features like integrated eye protection, radios, and lights.

These FDNY helmets have a chin strap to keep it in place. A visor in front protects the firefighter’s eyes, and earflaps protect the ears.

What are the FDNY colors?

The colors associated with the FDNY are red, white, and blue. These represent the American flag and reflect the department’s pride in serving their country and community. 

The standard uniform for FDNY firefighters is primarily navy blue. The helmets are an important piece of gear that may be customized or colored. This is done to reflect different roles and responsibilities within the department.

Why Are Firefighter Helmets Different Colours?

Does helmet color matter? Yes, it does and the different coloring of helmets can be associated with 3 specific reasons. 

Rank identification:

Different colors of helmets can be used to identify the rank and responsibilities of firefighters within a department. 

For example, firefighters who have achieved the rank of Lieutenant or Captain may wear white helmets. While Chief Officers wear red helmets. This helps firefighters quickly identify who is in charge of a particular operation or task, which can be critical in situations where decisions need to be made quickly.

Department identification:

Different colors of helmets may also be used to identify firefighters from different departments or jurisdictions. This makes it easier to coordinate efforts at a scene where multiple departments are present. 

For example, members of the Hazardous Materials Response Team (HAZMAT) wear bright yellow helmets. This may be to indicate their specialized training and expertise in dealing with hazardous materials. 

Similarly, members of the Technical Rescue Team (TRT) may wear orange or green helmets, depending on their specific role and task.


High-visibility colors can make it easier for firefighters to locate and identify one another in low-light or smoky conditions. Bright colors like yellow, orange, and lime green can increase visibility. And reduce the risk of accidents or miscommunications on the scene.

Additionally, helmets may be equipped with reflective strips or bright colors to make firefighters further increase visibility. This can be especially important in situations where firefighters are working. For they are hazardous conditions or where they need to quickly locate and assist their colleagues.

History Behind the Different Coloring of Fire Fighters:

The history of firefighter helmets is old with the use of helmets in firefighting dating back to ancient Rome. Back then leather helmets were worn to protect firefighters from falling debris. Over time, helmets evolved to incorporate new materials and features to improve protection and functionality. 

In the early 20th century, fire departments in the United States began to adopt a standardized helmet design. It was known as the “New Yorker” style. It featured a raised central ridge and a wide brim to protect against heat and debris.

As fire departments grew and became more organized, helmet color became significant. They began to play a role in identifying rank and department affiliation. 

In the United States, red helmets became synonymous with firefighters. While white helmets were reserved for chief officers. Yellow or black helmets were often used to denote firefighters of lower rank.

How do Helmet Color And Shield Color Differ? 

In many fire departments, helmet color is used to indicate rank or position within the department. While helmet shield colors are used to denote specific firefighting units or companies.

For example, in a fire department that uses white helmets for chief officers and red helmets for firefighters. The shield on a firefighter’s helmet may have a different color or design than the shield on a chief officer’s helmet.

The colors used on helmet shields can vary widely depending on the department’s traditions and regulations. In some cases, shield colors may be based on the color scheme of the department’s logo or emblem. While in others they may be chosen to represent a specific unit or type of firefighting operation.

History Behind Helmet Shield Coloring:

The use of helmet shields in firefighting can be traced back to the early 19th century. That is when firefighters in some cities began to paint the fronts of their leather helmets with their department’s insignia or emblem. 

This allowed firefighters to easily identify their colleagues on the fire ground. And helped to promote a sense of pride and unity within the department.

Over time, the use of helmet shields evolved to include more specific information about a firefighter. It carried more information about the individual’s role and affiliation within the department. For example, shields might include the firefighter’s rank or title, the unit or station they belong to, or other identifying information.

What Does Each Color Of The FDNY Helmet Shield Mean

What do the colors on the FDNY helmet shields mean? Different colors of the FDNY helmet shield represent different companies. Firefighting departments have different companies that specialize in various aspects of firefighting and emergency response.

Black: Engine Company

Black helmet shields
Source: fireapparatusmagazine.com

Black helmet shields are typically used by engine companies. They are responsible for providing water and suppressing fires at the scene of an emergency. This is also the most common shield color seen.

The engine company is often considered the workhorse of the fire department. They are responsible for getting water to the fire and extinguishing it. They carry hoses, nozzles, and other tools needed to fight fires.

This color is often chosen because black is associated with strength and power. These traits are more important qualities for firefighters who must work quickly and effectively in high-pressure situations.

If you require any fire-related assistance, they will be the ones helping you. For example, the engine company will be the one inspecting your fire alarm, but for a cost. However, they might charge you around $200 annually for a fire alarm inspection.

Red: Ladder Company

Red helmet shields
Source: firelineshields.com

Red helmet shields are commonly used by ladder companies. They are responsible for performing search and rescue operations, ventilating buildings, and performing other tasks that require the use of ladders. They carry axes, saws, and other tools needed to perform their duties.

Red is a color that is associated with energy and passion. This reflects the daring and courageous nature of ladder company work.

Blue: Rescue and Hazardous Materials Company

Blue helmet shields
Source: firelineshields.com

Blue helmet shields are often used by rescue and hazardous materials (HAZMAT) companies. This company specializes in technical rescue operations and responding to incidents involving hazardous materials. 

They are trained to handle chemical spills, gas leaks, and other emergencies involving hazardous substances.

Blue is a color that is associated with calmness and intelligence. This reflects the specialized training and knowledge required for HAZMAT and rescue operations.

Yellow: Squad Company

Yellow helmet shields are commonly used by squad companies. They are specialized units that provide support and assistance to other firefighting units. 

This might include performing forcible entry, ventilation, or providing additional manpower at the scene of an emergency. They are the ones unlocking stuck push bar doors

Yellow is a color that is associated with caution and safety. This reflects the squad’s role in supporting and protecting other firefighters.

Green: Marine Units

Green helmet shields are typically used by marine units. They are responsible for responding to emergencies on bodies of water. They are responsible for responding to incidents on waterways, such as boat fires or water rescues. That includes fires burning underwater.

Green is a color that is associated with nature and the environment. This reflects the marine unit’s responsibility for protecting and preserving natural resources.

Orange: Probationary Firefighter

Orange helmet shields are often used by probationary firefighters, who are new members of the department. These members have not yet completed their training. 

Orange is a color that is associated with youth and energy. This reflects the probationary firefighter’s position as a new and aspiring member of the department.

Do Different States Have Different Helmet Shield Colors?

In the United States, there is no national standard for fire department helmet shield colors. However, it is common for individual states, regions, or departments to have their own traditions and color schemes.

While some states or regions may have certain color traditions, these are not universally followed. And there can be variation even within a single department. 

Hence the color scheme of FDNY will vary from the fire department of other states. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

Why red is the color of fire trucks?

Fire trucks are red to stand out and have high visibility. Also red is a color associated with danger and urgency, and has been used by firefighters to warn people of danger. Low price of the color red is also a factor considered behind the coloring of the fire trucks. 

What is the shield on a fire helmet called?

The shield on a fire helmet is called a helmet shield or front piece. It is a piece of equipment that is attached to the front of the helmet and displays the firefighter’s rank, unit, and department. 

What is the symbol on the firefighter shield?

The most common symbol on a helmet shield is the Maltese Cross. This is a symbol of protection and a badge of honor for firefighters. Another common symbol is the Scramble. This symbolizes the grouping of firefighting tools such as axes, ladders, and helmets.


That concludes our discussion of the FDNY helmet shield color. The history and reasoning behind the helmet and shield color should be easier to grasp now.

But remember not to mix up the colors of FDNY with any other state.

Good luck!