CHICAGO (CBS) — The Chicago Fire Department has launched an internal investigation into the use of unofficial parking placards, which are being used by firefighters from at least two firehouses in the city.
As CBS 2’s Mai Martinez reports, the investigation was prompted after one of those placards was used by a firefighter to illegally park in a striped-off area next to a handicapped parking space along Recreation Drive during the recent Chicago Air & Water Show.
There was plenty of parking along Recreation Drive on the North Side on Tuesday, but that wasn’t the case during the Air & Water Show, as drivers searched for a spot.
Jodi Wagner was one of the frustrated drivers that weekend. She ended up parking blocks away then walking 20 minutes to get back to the softball fields at Recreation Drive for her game. When asked how she’d describe the parking situation, Wagner said, “it’s about impossible.”
But it was not “impossible” for everyone. One driver just created a spot in the striped-off area next to a handicapped parking space, and didn’t even pay for the hourly parking.
That was enough to get people’s attention, but what really raised eyebrows was the “parking permit” in the windshield, clearly stating “Chicago Fire Department” and sporting the signature of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“It’s not even a real spot. I don’t think anyone else has the guts to park there without getting ticketed,” said Wagner as she looked at the car.
One frustrated driver even stopped to snap a picture of the permit. He didn’t want to give his name, but said “if it’s fair for them, it’s fair for all the citizens too.”
The problem is, the permit is not issued by the City of Chicago, and it’s not even an official Fire Department placard. Those are pink and have an assigned number.
A fire department source said the “unofficial” placards are used by firefighters in areas where there is limited street parking around a firehouse.
Several were still in use outside Engine 1 on South Wells Street, days after the department launched its investigation into the use of the placards.
A fire department source said the purpose of the placards is to let police know the vehicles belong to firefighters so they’re not ticketed, but the source says the placards are not supposed to be used for personal parking situations.
At Engine 42, where the firefighter who owns the car that was illegally parked out at Recreation Drive works, no one wanted to talk about the placards, but after learning about the incident, Chicago Fire Commissioner Robert Hoff released the following statement:
“The Chicago Fire Department has initiated an internal investigation into the use of this parking placard. Of course we do not condone members allowing their personal vehicles to be illegally parked, especially by taking spaces reserved for those who need handicapped access. As commissioner, I have already given orders to review and tighten our policy on the use of these placards which were
intended to identify the personal cars of members parking in designated areas near firehouses. Any cards like this one have or are being confiscated and will be re-issued with language that better identifies the purpose and scope of the permitted parking. Under no circumstances will members be allowed to take handicapped spaces they are not entitled to.”
Hoff also said officials are confiscating the “unofficial” parking placards.
CBS 2 also reached to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office to ask about the use of his signature on the unofficial placards, but no one from the Mayor’s press office returned our call.