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The Dripby Fern Shen12:01 pmApr 16, 20120

Councilman proposes selling ads on the side of Baltimore fire trucks

Above: How a local supermarket chain’s logo looked on the rear of a Stockton, CA., firetruck after the company became a sponsor.

With Baltimore officials proposing to shut down three fire companies to help balance a tight budget, a city councilman has an unusual solution: sell advertising on the side of the trucks to raise funds to keep them rolling.

The prospect of a “Mattress Discounters” advertisement on a ladder truck or a “Big Boyz Bail Bonds” plastered on an engine has gotten a decidedly mixed reaction from firefighters, who plan to come to tonight’s 5 p.m. City Council meeting to learn more.

“I don’t think a fire truck should look like a NASCAR vehicle,” said Michael B. Campbell, president of the Baltimore Fire Officers Association Local 964.

“On the other hand, if the private sector wants to talk about supporting the city’s firefighters, I’m willing to listen.”

Campbell said he’s hoping to buttonhole City Councilman William A. “Pete” Welch Jr., who has a resolution on tonight’s agenda “expressing support for a program that will allow for the private sponsorship of fire trucks and the recognition of truck sponsors on the sponsored vehicles.”

Welch, who did not return calls this morning from The Brew, is proposing to form a committee to discuss the idea.

[UPDATE: Welch called later and The Brew spoke with him before the Monday council meeting. He said the idea of ads on firetrucks came from his daughter, Tiffany Welch, who was in Worcester County and noticed advertisements on a school bus.

  “Anything that brings revenues and protects public safety is worth considering,” Welch said. “We need to be creative.”

Truck 10, in Welch’s District in Harlem Park, is one of the three companies the city is proposing to disband.

Campbell, after speaking with Welch, said he hoped to have input on discussions of the idea as a member of the committee studying it.

After the resolution was formally introduced to the Council, Rick Hoffman, president of Baltimore Fire Fighters Local 734, was asked his opinion of Welch’s idea. “I don’t want to knock it down,” Hoffman said, adding he did have some concerns about the idea as well. “I don’t want it to look like a damn ice cream truck.”]

A “Food 4 Less” Truck in Stockton

In recent years, the idea has been discussed and actually implemented in some jurisdictions in the U.S. and abroad.

In Stockton, Cali, the Food 4 Less company stepped in 2009 with about $200,000 to “sponsor” a city firetruck when a $400,000 federal grant was not enough to cover the cost to purchase and equip it.

Comment boards for firefighters’ websites hum whenever the issue comes up.

“Personally, I wouldn’t worry about how tacky it is,” one commenter wrote. “If the people in your community aren’t willing to cough up what it takes to provide the services they need, then maybe they need to be hauled to the hospital in an ambulance with a ‘Got Milk?’ ad on the side.”

Another pondered the challenge of determining what ads are appropriate for city fire vehicles: “Could you advertise ‘Aunt Sally’s Bible Book Store,’ yet refuse to advertise for ‘Uncle Harry’s Dirty Book Store’? They are both taxpaying businesses.”

Here’s a story out of Indianapolis where the city allowed KFC Corp. to put ads for chicken wings on fire hydrants and extinguishers, prompting  People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to demand the city let them pay for anti-animal cruelty ads on firetrucks.

In Baltimore, when the local Twitterati saw the firetruck sponsorship idea on the agenda, it ignited plenty of snark. One commenter said police cars should get the ads, since there’s more of them and therefore more revenue potential.

Activist Kim Trueheart joked that the advertisements should also go on city take-home vehicles, long criticized as unnecessary perks costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands, used by officials who live outside the city they serve.

“A lot of these vehicles, unlike firetrucks go far beyond the city’s borders so that they are an untapped marketing opportunity,” she said, adding that the extra visibility “might also help us – ahem – track abuses.”

Firefighters and some neighborhood advocates have been up in arms since the announcement earlier this month of a plan to disband two ladder and one engine company, a move firefighters say would make city residents less safe

Cal Ripken Engine 8?

For Campbell, the idea of plastering a sponsorship on the side of a firetruck has been less a real suggestion than bitter satire.

“I’ve joked that we ought to name the trucks after Baltimore sports stars and then they’d never get rid of them,” Campbell said. “Name Engine 8 after Cal Ripken, Engine 20 after Frank Robinson and they’d never shut them down.”

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