Thin Line Colors: Their History and What They Mean

There is a lot of confusion when it comes to what colors belong to what members of the Thin Line organizations. The Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Police, Fire, Armed Forces, Medical Services, Search and Rescue, Security and other Law Enforcement organizations have utilized a Thin Line flag or other Thin Line memorabilia to depict camaraderie and moral. Moral patches, flags, challenge coins and lapel pins are often seen with the Thin Blue Line, the most common of the colors, gained its start through a combination of colloquial sayings, media portrayals and the television and film industry. There is a significant difference when the line is represented on various colors and in various circles. Most often the line is depicted on black, sometimes it’s just a solid thin line and on few occasions a thin line on white. Regardless of how it’s displayed, it is a symbol of pride, honor and support for those that wear it.


Thin Blue Line

Thin Blue Line

The Thin Blue Line is the most recognizable due to the mainstream attention the 1988 documentary film The Thin Blue Line by Errol Morris received where the film documented the murder of Dallas Police officer Robert W. Wood in 1976.

The terminology has many meanings including that of the "dress blues" and patrol uniforms officers are routinely associated with wearing. Additionally, the related and often heard term "Blue Blood" refers to being part of a noble family and/or blood line. Police Officers perform a noble service and the term of endearment has become a moral booster. In the "Thin Blue Line" documentary their was a scene where a prosecutor depicted law enforcement as the Thin Blue Line that maintains socially acceptable behaviors be enforcing the law thus preventing anarchy.

The self sacrifice of officers are seen by their daily dedication to preserving life and property, even at the expense of giving of their own life, life of their brothers in the blue line of defense or by putting themselves in harms way. Many officers have spilled their blue blood in service to their communities and the Thin Blue Line is reminiscent of the Blue Blood that streams through our veins. As Divers use the symbol on a flag to represent a "Diver Down," law enforcement does the same in remembrance of fallen officers.


Thin Red Line

Thin Red Line

Fire Fighters are easily recognized by their bright Red Fire Trucks, historically red brick station houses and red helmets. When cars were first invented by Henry Ford he utilized the color Black due to it's costs, overall look and ruggedness. Fire Brigades decided that the best way to alert the public was to paint their trucks Red in order to stand out when they were driving to the scene of a call. Red was considered a novelty color due to costs so that use was very limited making the local Fire Brigades use of the color effective in drawing awareness to their movements.

The color has more meaning as it is symbolic of fire too. However, the true meaning of the Thin Red Line may lay closer to the military concept of holding the line to prevent your enemy from advancing. In 1854 during the Crimean War, British Red Coat Soldier supported the Royal Marines and the Turkish Infantry in holding the line against the Russian opposition force at the Battle of Balaclava. The red coats created a "Thin Red Line" visible from afar. The British Sutherland Highlanders 93rd Regimen commonly became talked about as the "thin red streak tipped with a line of steel of the 93rd" when speaking about the Battle of Balaclava.

Today we see the Thin Red Line representing the valiant efforts of Fire Fighters holding the line against fires doing so at their own possible peril. These brave men and women use their "The Thin Red Line of Courage” to push forward knowing that their efforts be saving life, property and community. The blood pulsing through their veins is a reminder that every last ounce of courage is empowering them to be that Thin Red Line.


Thin Green Line

Thin Green Lin

Thin Green Line

If you ask most people what color they believe represents the military the majority will answer, Green. The Thin Green Line is in fact indicative of the Armed Forces and Military Police. What most don't realize is that it also represents Boarder Patrol, Federal Agents, Park Rangers, Animal Control Officers, Fish and Wild Life Wardens, and the Conservation Corp. Many organizations and website have mistakenly listed the Thin Green Line to represent security (see Thin Yellow Line). This misnomer may come from the Thin Green Flag being displayed in relation to the Diplomatic Security Service. The DSS is a Federal Agency that is a protective service dedicated to protecting political figures and intelligence under the authority of the State Department.

Thin Yellow Line

Thin Yellow Line

In 2019 a Security magazine published an article discussing the push to make Purple the color for security. However, there are major issues with that movement (see Thin Purple Line). To suggest the use of Purple for Security is preposterous.

"The color purple is derived by combining the color blue (the color for law enforcement), the color red (the color for fire) and the color white (the color for EMS). Since the duties and responsibilities of most security professionals entail duties of each of these other professions (policing, fire prevention and response, and emergency medical response), the color purple makes the most sense." Excerpt from A Case for The Thin Purple Line - White Paper - August 17,2018.

Yellow is a more accurate color to depict Security as the industry has already adopted this color by means of the use of Amber as the universal color for security personnel displaying strobe or flashing lights on their vehicles. The color Yellow does not conflict with other thin line colors or industries. Yellow is universally used as a warning and Security Officers are generally the first visible warning system employed for crime prevention. Psychologically, yellow is associated with friendliness which every Security Guard is trained to employ during the course of their duties as customer service professionals in the private sector.

Security Guards are not often thought about as First Responders and are disregarded by many in the industry due to poor training standards regularly associated with security guards. With the increase in security guard associations, states increasing training and background requirements, and employers taking responsibility to improve upon the performance of their security staff, Security Officers are in fact becoming a more inclusive service industry offering not only observation, but medical services and even protection of life and property.

Note: This category also included Private Investigators, Bail Agents and Bondsmen, and Executive Protection Agents.


Thin Gold Line

Thin Gold Line

Dispatchers are often called upon in emergency situations to support the public, business, and the officers within their department. They are not only communication professionals, but they are often the savior on the other end of the telephone line or microphone. If we look at the psychology of the color Gold we can see why it was chosen as the color that best represents this field. Psychologist have define gold to represent strength, loyalty, the understanding of right from wrong, preparedness, while being caring, concerned and concrete on resolve.

Emergency Dispatchers are truly Gold and are often not thought of as First Responders. The Thin Gold Line is helping change the view of emergency telecommunication operators as integral parts of the system that make emergency services function. Without a line of communication the public has no way of relaying messages for requests for assistance, Police Officers in the field would have no way receiving backup or support services for emergency calls, and medical services would fail to be timely without immediate notification and information.


Thin Silver Line

Thin Silver Line

Silver is the most common color of handcuffs and it's a great representation for Correction Officers, Jailers, Probation & Parole Officers, and Bailiffs (more common in the UK). This is one of the newer Thin Lines, but highly respected. Correction officers deal with the aftermath of the justice system. They transport, house and initiate rehabilitation of those awaiting trail and those convicted of criminal charges.The Thin Silver Line also includes those in the mental health jailing system. These specialized group of officers attend to those convicted of crimes, as well as, those mandated for observation or care due to mental deficiencies.


Thin Purple Line

Thin Purple Line

Purple has along been used by the Military to denote sacrifice of being wounded or killed while serving. This has since extended to Politicians and those in political capacity who were wounded or killed. Taking this a step further, the Funeral industry utilized Purple strobe lights or Purple flashing lights when leading Funeral Processions. In 1570 with the promulgation of the Roman Missal after the Council of Trent, Catholicism uses Purple as the color sacrifice, penance and preparation. This is why Priests wear the Purple vestments during Funeral rituals. Since Purple was considered a Noble color (due to the costs of production), the dead are honored with the use of the color. This representation has metastasized into the modern version for the honoring of the wounded and killed during the course of their public service.


Thin Orange Line

Thin Orange Line

Search and Rescue units use high visibility colored gear and one of the most common colors is Orange. Hence, the use of the Thin Orange Line is significant to represent their strength, courage and fortitude in their operations. The Thin Orange line includes Local, County, State and Federal government SAR First Responders, Volunteer SAR, and private agency SAR personnel. They are called upon at times to risk their lives to save others and they do so without hesitation.

Thin White Line

Thin White Line

Emergency Medical Services, Paramedics, and First Responder Medical Technicians. The Star of Life was an Orange Cross on a square background designed by Leo R. Schwartz, Chief of the EMS Branch, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the United States, that identified Emergency Medical Services. The symbol was adapted from the Universal Medical Identification Symbol trademarked by the American Medical Association. However, the American Red Cross filed a complaint alleging it was too similar to their Trademarked Red Cross which lead to the redesigned Star of Life logo trademarked February 1, 1977 by the name of the National Highway Traffic Safety and Administration. The six point star represented the 6 tenants of Emergency Medical Services of field personnel. It was inevitable that the Thin White Line on Blue would become the representation of EMS.


Thin Red on White Line

Thin Red on White Line

Just as EMS has the Thin White Line on Blue, Nurses have the Thin White Line on Red for similar reasons and history. Nurses are represented by their own medical caduceus symbol, but the colors Red and White are thought of as universal for the nursing industry. The color white symbolizes purity, honesty, cleanliness which are characteristics that nurses hold dear to their profession. Red is the life source color and seen passing through our veins. Nurses are the caregivers of life and the use of the Thin White Line on Red promotes their field.