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What do the colors of the thin line flag mean?

The thin line flag has become a popular way to show support for first responders and military personnel. This simple black-and-white American flag with a colored stripe is a recognizable symbol that represents solidarity with different service groups.

Origin of the Thin Line Flag

The thin line flag first emerged in the late 1990s as a sign of support for law enforcement officers. A black flag with a blue stripe was created as a tribute to fallen police officers and their families. This version is now known as the “thin blue line” flag.

After the success of the thin blue line flag, similar flags were designed to honor firefighters, EMTs, military members, and other first responder professions. Each flag features a black-and-white American flag with a colored stripe to match the colors of that service group.

Meaning of the Thin Line Flag

The colored stripe on these flags has a dual significance:

  • It represents the courage and sacrifice of those who serve on the front lines to protect others.
  • It suggests that these professions form a thin line separating law, order, and security from chaos and danger.

So while the black and white portion symbolizes the citizens these groups serve and protect, the thin colored line indicates that first responders stand between those they serve and threats to their safety and freedoms.

Colors of the Thin Line Flag

Here is a breakdown of the meaning behind some of the most common thin line flags and their colored stripes:

Flag Color Meaning
Blue Law enforcement officers
Red Firefighters
Yellow Security guards
Green Military members
White EMTs
Orange Search and rescue personnel
Gray Loss of a service member

Blue Line Meaning

The blue line on the thin blue line flag represents law enforcement officers. The blue color matches the blue typically found in police uniforms and on squad cars.

This flag gained popularity after 9/11 to show support for police officers as first responders, but also to memorialize officers who have died in the line of duty. It is frequently used by Blue Lives Matter, a movement that advocates for police officers.

Red Line Meaning

The red line flag represents the sacrifice and courage of firefighters. Red matches the color of most fire engines and much of firefighters’ gear.

In recent years, the thin red line flag has come to include all fire service personnel, including wildland firefighters, fire inspectors, and other fire department members.

Yellow Line Meaning

The thin yellow line flag honors security guards who protect businesses, venues, and other private properties. Yellow often appears on security personnel uniforms and vehicles.

This flag gained notice after the shooting of security guard Jemel Roberson in 2018.

Green Line Meaning

The thin green line flag shows support for military service members. The green color reflects the shade used in many military uniforms and insignia.

This flag emerged post 9-11 to honor those who serve their country in the armed forces, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

White Line Meaning

White is the color associated with emergency medical technicians (EMTs). Ambulances and medical kits are typically white to denote medical neutrality.

The thin white line flag honors the EMTs and paramedics who provide crucial pre-hospital care and transportation to medical facilities.

Orange Line Meaning

Orange represents search and rescue personnel who are specially trained to find and rescue people in distress. Hunter orange gear keeps them visible in the wilderness.

The thin orange line flag pays tribute to the search and rescue teams who save lives through their rapid response and specialized skills.

Grey Line Meaning

Unlike other thin line flags, the grey line flag does not represent a specific group. Rather, it is a memorial flag that signifies loss and mourning.

The thin grey line pays somber tribute to any first responder who has made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.

Using the Thin Line Flag

Here are some ways the thin line flag is commonly displayed:

  • Flown at home or on vehicles to show general support for first responders
  • Used in posters, bumper stickers, or apparel to show solidarity with a particular service group
  • Carried in remembrance ceremonies or memorial services honoring fallen responders
  • Flown at half-staff to mourn recent losses or on the anniversary of loss of life in the line of duty
  • Incorporated into mourning bands worn across police and firefighter badges

The thin line flag has also inspired many spin-off designs. For example, pro-police versions may include “Back the Blue” or “Blue Lives Matter.” Fire service supporters may choose “Respect the Red” or custom designs with firefighter symbols. Thin line American flags are also modified to represent other professions like corrections officers and dispatchers.

Some choose to display multiple thin line flags together to make a statement of solidarity across these service groups and appreciate the sacrifices made by all first responders.

Controversy Around the Thin Blue Line Flag

While the thin line flag began with benevolent intentions to honor first responders, the blue line version has become controversial in recent years.

Critics argue the flag has come to represent opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement and solidarity with police accused of racism or excessive force. As a result, many now view the thin blue line flag as hostile to efforts to address criminal justice reform and improve community-police relations.

Supporters disagree and maintain the flag should be seen only as a sign of respect for law enforcement officers who risk their lives every day. They believe critics have unfairly politicized what was meant as a simple symbol of appreciation.

Because of these disputes, public and corporate display of the flag has sometimes led to heated debate and protests. Some major retailers like Walmart and Amazon have discontinued sales of blue line flag merchandise because of customer complaints.

Other Thin Line Flags Remain Non-Controversial

Unlike the thin blue line flag, most other thin line versions have not become politicized. Flags supporting firefighters, EMTs, military personnel, and other service groups largely remain free from controversy and are universally seen as respectful emblems.

Even those who object to the thin blue line flag typically still support other first responders. This allows the broader thin line flag ethos of sacrifice and service to endure with minimal backlash.


The thin line flag has evolved from a police-oriented tribute into a versatile symbol that now unites support for all brave first responders and military personnel. However, objections to the blue line flag reveal the difficulties of separating a simple professional homage from complex political debates.

Regardless of those disputes, the colors of these flags still carry an important meaning for many. They provide a way to show respect for those who serve, mourn those who have fallen, and bring communities together in appreciation for these everyday heroes among us.