A small suburban fire district is about to become what it believes is the first fire service in Illinois to sell advertising space on trucks and ambulances.
The Palatine Rural Fire Protection District, which last week lost a bid for a tax hike, says the revenue the ads will bring is badly needed at a time when calls are increasing and property tax income is falling.
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"We're kind of in a desperate situation here," Chief Hank Clemmensen said. "The money we get from these ads will be critical to our operation, unfortunately."
Clemmensen said the ads, which he pledges will be tasteful, will go on the sides near the rear of the Inverness-based district's only fire truck and on the back of the district's lone ambulance.
"It's not going to look like a race car," he said, adding that he will have final approval on the ads.
The district is working to sell ad space through Arizona-based Public Safety Advertising, which was founded by a firefighter looking to help struggling fire departments boost revenues without having to further burden their taxpayers.
Chad Drogos, the company's owner and an Arizona firefighter, said that after the economic downturn in 2008 his department's tax revenues shrank so much they lost a fire truck and some staff.
His company, he said, allows departments to get into the outdoor advertising field without having to learn how to negotiate deals or manufacture the ads themselves. Public Safety Advertising gets a 15 percent commission of ad sales, Drogos said.
Drogos acknowledges the idea of putting ads on fire trucks is taboo to some people.
"Fire service is very traditional. Fire trucks are very personal to firefighters," Drogos said. "That's why we put the ads near the back of the truck, away from the city stickers and identification tags."
Clemmensen said he has been thinking about putting ads on his vehicles for some time as he's watched district revenues fall but didn't know how to get started. The district, he said, lost $300,000 alone from 2012 to 2013, a 9 percent decline.
Last Tuesday, voters rejected the proposed tax hike that would have increased revenues by $200,000. A little more than 1,100 of the district's nearly 20,000 registered voters cast ballots on the referendum, with about 54 percent voting no.
Clemmensen said even if the tax increase had passed, he would have gone ahead with the advertising plan, which was approved unanimously by the district's board March 10. Now the money is even more desperately needed than before, he added.
The chief said Public Safety Advertising estimated his district would get between $20.000 and $25,000 per year from the ads.
Drogos said the advertisers his company does business with adhere to the traditional values of the fire service.
"We're not going to put an ad on for Hooters or something like that," Drogos said. "That doesn't fit with the family values of fire services."