The History of the Thin Red Line

The Thin Red Line of CourageThin Red Line


“The meaning of the Thin Red Line of Courage”

Information obtained from 

Reproduced with permission from the North Carolina Fallen Firefighters Foundation

As firefighters are periled, they place their lives second to those they protect. They are forced to face their own fears and grasp for every ounce of courage to perform the necessary task. “The Thin Red Line of Courage” represents the last ounce of courage firefighters find deep in their blood to conquer their darkest fears in order to save and protect life and property. The firefighters from the Apex Volunteer Fire Department designed and developed the “The Thin Red Line of Courage” in 1999. Today, it is displayed to show respect for firefighters injured and killed in the line of duty

And as for how the “Thin Red Line” got its start in the fire service, well, it started with a bunch of kids who wanted to make fun of the local cops, who initially had the thin blue line, and has had its popularity exponentially increase.  In the words of one of the first who came up with the idea:


I’ll give you guys the history on where this version of “the thin red line” came from as it relates to the fire service. I know, because I was there when the idea was brought up.

I was a member of a volunteer department in NC from ’95-’07. It used to be a sleepy little town, one where you roll the sidewalks up at night after 9pm. Now, it’s one of the fastest growing areas in the nation (Apex, NC). So, in the good ol’ days like ’96-’97, the cops would pull up on the front ramp when we’d be hanging out during those warm summer nights. There was a group of us, like 8-10 that were all young in service, and eager to catch first out on every call possible.

So, one night when a cop was sitting out front, one of the guys asked the cop “hey, what does that blue line license plate mean”? The cop just said “it’s the thin blue line, stands for law enforcement and the line we walk between good and evil”. It became an ongoing joke, asking all the cops what it stood for. Some had no idea, which made it hilarious. So, being the smart *****e$ we are, we said “let’s make thin red line plates to stand for the fire department”. So, we all grabbed the front tags off of our cars/trucks, and painted them black and placed a thin red line of electrical tape in the middle. We wore them with pride….

Shortly after this, a gentleman by the name of Paul Dunwell created the N.C. Fallen Firemen’s Foundation. He was the Chief of one of our neighboring departments, and some of our guys were close to him. He asked if he could use our idea of the “thin red line” tag to show respect to our fallen Brothers and Sisters. We said “of course you can, no big deal”, especially since the funds go to a worthy cause. And now, who would have known that when I make trips to the NJ Firemen’s Convention in Wildwood, NJ, that I’d be seeing thin red line stuff being sold by vendors.

So to answer your question new guy, the main purpose of the plate is to show respect to the ones’ that have gone before us and made the ultimate sacrifice. Those that add stuff to it, don’t know the meaning or the intent. It has nothing to do with being paid or volunteer. If anyone tells you different, have them come on here and talk to me. I know, I was there and was a part of it.

Stay safe Brothers….


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