Should Emergency Services Advertise?

Should emergency services come with advertising? An editorial in the Baltimore Sun takes on this issue.

That question comes up with the news that, a Middle River Volunteer Fire Company (MD) fire truck carries a banner ad for Carroll Home Services, a heating, cooling and plumbing company.

We are accustomed to advertising in the arena of public service, such as ads on the sides of transit buses. Commuters looking at those ads probably do not attach any special importance to the commercial message because they are reading it on a bus. When we read “Need a lawyer?” followed by a phone number, we don’t imagine the bus company itself is suggesting we call this particular law firm.

But do we feel the same when reading an ad on the side of an emergency vehicle that is frequently used in life-or-death emergencies or catastrophes? Is there an implicit gravitas that comes with the message?

As private commerce encroaches more into public service, we are likely to see more of this. Our opinion that this seems a bit tacky may matter little in light of the benefit to the public of a fire truck in service. Now that the firefighters in Middle River have broken the ice, the county’s other volunteer firefighters, for whom fundraising is a constant demand, may start looking for sponsors to ease the financial burden.

We’re not sure where the line should be drawn. But we think we should be careful that the stature earned on the job by emergency service workers who sometimes risk their lives should not become a commodity.

To read more of the editorial, view


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