What Does the Thin Red Line Flag Mean

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What Does the Thin Red Line Flag Mean

Firefighters are some of the most heroic members of our society. At any moment in their job, their lives can be put at serious risk, all for the sake of helping others. 

Imagine the amount of fear and pressure that firefighters experience every time they’re sent out on a task. Consider how much bravery it takes to take on such a noble cause. This commitment to serving others is exemplified further by the fact that many firefighters are volunteers, not even getting paid.

At Printed Kicks, we hold a special place in our hearts for firefighters, as well as all the first responders that protect our families every single day. One way we choose to honor the efforts of our beloved firefighters is by displaying the thin red line flag proudly. 

The thin red line flag, also known as “The Thin Red Line of Courage” flag, symbolizes the courage that firefighters must summon within themselves when faced with the task of helping fire victims. In the midst of absolutely terrifying moments, firefighters must overcome their anxieties and find the will to do their job. This flag embodies the heroism required of all firefighters. 

The thin red line flag is a variation of the American flag, swapping out the red and blue stripes for black and white ones. However, it features one, distinct red stripe in the middle of the flag that is black and white with one red stripe. The fifty stars in the top left corner of the flag are left white, but instead of a blue background, they are placed on a black background.

The Origin of the Thin Red Line Flag

The earliest records of the thin red line flag date back to 1854, when the symbol was used by the British Sutherland Highlanders’ 93rd Regiment. During the Crimean War at the Battle of Balaclava, this troop routed a Russian cavalry charge and successfully defended itself, forcing their enemies to retreat. 

That day, the 93rd Regiment gained a new nickname: “The Fighting Highlanders.” This troop became known as the original “thin red line,” which is where the flag comes from. This massive defeat gave a huge advantage to the Allies, leading to their eventual victory in the war. 

W. H. Russell, a bystander and press writer for The Times, reported that the only defense in the way of the Russian cavalry was the "thin red streak tipped with a line of steel of the 93rd." An otherwise defenseless British army was saved by this auspicious line of soldiers. This description of the thin red line immediately became a recognized symbol in folklore.

Since this historic event, the term “thin red line” has become known as a figure of speech for any thinly spread military unit standing tall against an attack. 

In 1999, a group of firefighters from the Apex Volunteer Fire Department in North Carolina created the “The Thin Red Line of Courage” flag, which is still used today. The flag remains the same in terms of design and makeup. Now, rather than being used as military jargon, the thin red line is a symbol of honor for all the firefighters who risk their lives in the line of duty.

Thin Line Flag Variations

The "thin line" phrase was first coined in the 1880s to describe the red color of the British Army uniforms. However, other variations of the thin line have also become prevalent over the years. For instance, the thin blue line was first introduced in 1911 in a poem about the United States army by Nels Dickmann Anderson.

During the 1950s, the “thin blue line” was declared by Los Angeles Police Department Chief Bill Parker as the barrier between law and order, as well as social and civil anarchy. Within just a few decades, the phrase had become popularized among police departments all over the country. The term gained even more traction after the release of the 1988 documentary by Errol Morris, “The Thin Blue Line.”

The thin blue line flag, for decades, has been used as a symbol to pay respect to the police officers that serve our communities.

Besides law enforcement, eight other public service branches have adopted their own versions of the thin line flag. Along with the thin red line flag, there is also a thin green line flag for military federal agents, park rangers, wildlife, and border patrol, a thin gold or bright yellow line for dispatchers, a thin yellow line for dispatchers and tow truck drivers, a thin orange line for search and rescue and EMT personnel, a thin purple line for security guards and security personnel, a thin silver line for corrections officers, and a thin white line for emergency medical services. 

Where Is It Flown?

The most common place you’ll see the thin red line flag being flown is inside or outside a fire station or on fire apparatus like a fire truck. Some fire departments have policies on what can be displayed on its equipment, and do not permit the use of flags, decals and emblems. However, these statutes vary from department to department. 

Many civilians and non-firefighters also fly the flag, which is encouraged by most firefighters. Displaying the flag on your home or vehicle is a great way of showing that you appreciate the work of firefighters. 

Still, the thin red line flag isn’t as widespread as it could be. For the amount of hard work that our firefighters put in for us, the symbol should certainly be more popular. Though many people are starting to realize its importance as of late, it is important to keep spreading the thin red line to as many people as possible. 

Where Can You Buy One?

If you are looking to support your local firefighters by repping the thin red line, check out the Printed Kicks online store! We carry a variety of clothing and accessories featuring the thin red line flag. We also have thin red line flags themselves!

Perhaps you’d enjoy a leather patch hat with the thin red line flag subtly placed on the dome. Or maybe you’d like a comfy pair of mesh sneakers sporting the thin red line flag boldly all-over. We also offer t-shirts, hoodies, reusable tumblers, and decals displaying the thin red line flag. 

There is no doubt that we should hold our communities’ first responders in high regard, especially our firefighters. Their entire occupation is solely focused on helping others.


The thin red line flag has a history that stretches back hundreds of years. For firefighters, this flag is one of the only symbols that pay homage to their services. Displaying the thin red line flag is also a way of remembering those who have lost their lives in the line of duty. 

Next time you’re passing by your local fire department, take a closer look and see if you can spot a thin red line. This image has been passed down for years and will be preserved for many more years to come. 

Firefighters are some of the most courageous members of our society. They literally place their lives before the lives of those they serve. The amount of dedication and sacrifice that this commitment takes is utterly tremendous. It should not be taken for granted. 

In serious situations, firefighters have to muster that last ounce of courage within them to conquer their anxieties. In the face of fear, paranoia, and intense stress, firefighters are able to put aside their own emotions in order to ensure the safety of others. This is what the thin red line represents. 

This job is certainly not built for everyone. There is a reason that fire departments are often in search of volunteers and new members. Being a firefighter is only fit for the brave; those who are willing to put the wellbeing of others before their own interests. 



Thin red line flags: Understanding the origin, meaning and controversy | Fire Rescue 1

Ohio football: What do 'Thin Blue Line,’ 'Thin Red Line' flags | Cincinnati.com 

Fire Department Operations, Management & Safety | FEMA 

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