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Interlocal Cooperation in Fire Services

This page provides an overview of interlocal cooperation for fire services for local governments in Washington State, including interlocal agreements, joint operations, and fire district annexations, along with relevant statutes and sample documents.


Overview

Intergovernmental cooperation among Washington's cities, towns, and fire districts takes many forms. There may be joint operating agreements, sometimes referred to as functional consolidations or mergers, where several agencies form a joint operating agency with a separate governing board through interlocal contracts; or a joint operating agreement where two jurisdictions may jointly provide fire services; or, more simply, an interlocal service contract where one jurisdiction may provide fire services to another. A single city may contract with a fire district, another city, or it may annex to a fire district. MRSC includes a list of fire district mergers, city annexations, districts and cities that are jointly operating, and that are known to be contracting for services on fire districts that are jointly operating a department on the Local Government Fire Protection Service Providers webpage.


Statutes

NFPA Code 1201 Organizational Structure of the Fire Department Section 3-2.1 addresses intergovernmental relationships. It states that "State statutes, municipal charters, and the charters of townships, fire districts, or counties shall document the legal authority for operation of the fire department. The fire department shall operate within and comply with the existing laws respecting its areas of jurisdiction and responsibilities in all instances." For Washington the principal authority resides in Ch. 39.34 RCW. Other statutes relate to annexation and mergers of fire districts.

  • Ch 39.34 RCW - Interlocal Cooperation Act
  • Title 52 RCW - Fire Protection Districts - Includes annexation of fire districts, annexation of cities and towns to fire districts, and merger of fire districts

Fire Service Contracts

A number of cities and fire protection districts contract with other cities/fire districts to provide fire protection, EMS, and related services. Below are a few selected examples.

Cities Providing Service to Other Cities

  • Bellevue/Clyde Hill Fire Services Agreement (2017) – Bellevue continues providing fire protection/EMS to Clyde Hill for 10 years; city has similar agreements with several other neaby cities and a fire district
  • Camas/Washougal Fire Services Agreement (2013) - Camas provides fire, EMS, and ALS transport services to Washougal for 10 years, with consolidated department renamed "Camas-Washougal Fire Department." Also includes prior trial agreement and cost allocation example.
  • Tacoma/Fircrest Agreement for consolidation of fire protection and emergency services in which Tacoma provides services to the city of Fircrest for a period of 10 years; renewable in 10-year increments authorized by Tacoma Ordinance No. 25744 (1995)

Cities Providing Service to Fire Districts

Fire Districts Providing Service to Cities

  • Battle Ground/Clark County Fire District No. 3 Fire Services Agreement (2016) – Fire district provides service to city; city maintains ownership of fire station and two engines
  • Pe Ell and Lewis County Fire Protection District No. 11, Agreement for fire protection services to be provided fire district; no termination date, provides for annual review, 12-04
  • Sumner and Pierce County Fire Districts - Note in 2008 Sumner voted to annex to, and Pierce County Fire District 1 voted merge with East Pierce Fire and Rescue​
    • Interlocal Agreement for Pierce County Fire Protection District No. 22 (East Pierce Fire and Rescue) to provide administrative services to the city of Sumner and Pierce County Fire Protection District No. 1
  • Yelm and Yelm Fire District No. 2, Agreement for the fire district to respond to all fire, rescue and medical emergency alarms and perform fire prevention, fire investigation, public education, community services and such other usual and customary services as are provided within the district; effective June 1, 2002. Became part of South East Thurston Regional Fire Authority in February 2010 election.

Fire District Agreements Under RCW 52.30.020

RCW 52.30.020 requires local governments with property located within or adjacent to a fire protection district to contract with the district for fire protection services on that property, unless the local agency already provides fire protection directly or through a contract with a different agency. (School districts have a separate provision.)

This requirement derives from the fact that fire protection districts are supported by property taxes, but public agencies are exempt from paying property taxes. A contract is required even for cities that have annexed into a fire district.

  • Cowlitz County/Cowlitz County Fire Districts 2 and 6 Solid Waste Fire Services Agreement (2014) – Two fire districts provide service to county solid waste facility located adjacent to District 6; includes cost of service formula
  • Fife/Pierce County Fire District No. 10 Fire Services Agreement (2013) – City is annexed to fire protection district, pays set amount plus annual increase of 1%. Includes adopting resolution.
  • North Beach Water District/Pacific County Fire District No. 1 Fire Services Agreement (2017) – Fire district provides service to water district; includes adopting resolution
  • Olympia/Lacey Fire District No. 3 Fire Services Agreement (2018) – Covers several specific properties; city receives credit during first year for previous use of city ladder truck by fire district
  • Snohomish County/Snohomish County Fire District No. 7 Fairground Fire Services Agreement (2018) – Covers Evergreen State Fairgrounds and other county properties within district boundaries, with annual adjustments tied to CPI-U rate

Cities/Fire Districts Providing Service to Other Government Agencies

  • Cheney/Eastern Washington University Interlocal Cooperative Fire Protection Agreement (2017)
  • Omak/Okanogan County Fire District No. 3 Tribal Casino Fire Protection Agreement (2015) - City and fire district provide service to Colville Tribal Gaming property in exchange for an annual payment equivalent to the amount of property taxes that would be assessed on a facility of equivalent value.
  • Pierce County Fire District No. 14/Puyallup Tribe Fire/EMS Agreement (2017) - Fire district provides fire protection/EMS on tribal property

Fire District Annexation

A city or town with a population of 300,000 or less and located "within reasonable proximity" of a fire district may annex to the district (RCW 52.04.061), and many cities/towns have taken this approach. If the annexation is approved by voters, the annual tax levy imposed by the fire protection district then applies within the corporate limits of the city.

New legislation in 2017-2018 allows fire protection districts to annex cities or towns "located within reasonable proximity" to the district. Previously, cities or towns had to be adjacent to the district to be annexed. See RCW 52.04.061 and SHB 2576 (2018). "Reasonable proximity" means "geographical areas near enough to each other so that governance, management, and services can be delivered effectively."

Annexation is initiated by the city/town council adopting an ordinance stating an intent to join the fire protection district. The ordinance is then forwarded to the board of fire commissioners of the fire district. Following approval by the district, the jurisdictions must notify the county commission/council and the boundary review board (only for jurisdictions located within counties that have a boundary review board).

Once these steps have been completed, a special election is held in the city and the fire protection district on the issue. If a majority of the voters in the city and a majority of the voters in the district are in favor of the annexation, then the city is annexed to the fire protection district.

Following annexation, the city must still contract with the district to provide fire protection services for city-owned properties and facilities; see earlier discussion of fire service contracts under RCW 52.30.020.

See list of cities annexed to fire districts on MRSC page Local Government Fire Protection Service Providers.

Examples


Fire District Mergers

A fire protection district may merge into another fire protection district "located within reasonable proximity" under chapter 52.06 RCW. "Reasonable proximity" means geographical areas near enough to each other so that governance, management, and services can be delivered effectively (RCW 52.06.010). (Prior to 2017-2018, merging districts had to be adjacent to each other.)

The district desiring to merge with another district is called the "merging district." The district into which the merger is to be made is called the "merger district." Once the merger is complete, the resulting (combined) district is called the "merged district."

The commissioners from the merging district must submit a merger petition to the merger district. They may file the petition on their own, or the petition may be filed by citizens if it is signed by at least 10% of the registered voters in the merging district who voted in the last general municipal election. The petition must state the reasons for the merger, state the terms and conditions under which the merger is proposed, and request the merger.

Such action is subject to potential boundary board review if the merging district is located within a county that has a boundary review board. The merger also must be approved by a simple majority of voters in the merging district. However, no election is required if the petition is signed by at least 60% of the qualified electors in the merging district (RCW 52.06.060).

If the merger is approved, both districts must adopt concurrent resolutions declaring the districts merged. All property and funds belonging to the merging district are transferred to the merged district, and the merging district is dissolved without any further proceedings.

The board of the merged district initially consists of all fire commissioners from both districts. The number is gradually reduced through attrition to three or five commissioners (depending on whether the merged district will ultimately have a three-member or five-member board) over the next three general election cycles, as described in RCW 52.06.085.

Partial Mergers

A fire district may also merge a portion of the district into another fire district within reasonable proximity, if the area can be better served by the merger district (RCW 52.06.090). A partial merger requires a petition to be signed by a majority of the commissioners of the merging district, or by at least 15% of the qualified electors within the area to be merged.

If the petition is then approved by the merger district, an election must be called in the area to be merged, requiring simple majority approval. However, if the petition is approved by the commissioners and signed by at least 60% of the qualified electors in the area to be merged, no election is necessary, at which point the merger district must adopt a resolution declaring the partial merger complete (RCW 52.06.100).

Examples

  • Clark County Fire District No. 10 Resolution No. 0724201401 (2014) - Declaring a portion of Fire District 13 to be merged into Fire District 10 without requiring an election; also includes resolution from District 13 accepting petitions and consenting to merger
  • Thurston County Fire Districts Nos. 7 and 8 - Merger contingent upon approval of a levy lid lift in the merging district; all documents are from 2014:

Joint Operating Agreements

Where local governments operate fire services within close proximity to one another, regional fire service studies suggest that service delivery would be more efficient, if they cooperated. It is pointed out in fire studies that neighboring fire chiefs are essentially developing and administering similar programs within a contiguous region. By pooling, managers and administrators could be freed to provide a more specialized spectrum of services (From Emergency Services Consulting Group, now Emergency Services Consulting Group International Wilsonville, OR).

Centralia and Lewis County Fire District 12

Eastside Fire and Rescue

On January 1, 1999, several King County fire agencies created a new joint operating fire and emergency medical services agency called Eastside Fire and Rescue through interlocal agreements. Eastside Fire and Rescue is governed by a board of directors. Member agencies include King County Fire Districts 10 and 38 and the cities of Issaquah and North Bend.

  • Interlocal agreement between King County Fire Protection District No. 10, Fire District 38, and the cities of Issaquah, North Bend and Sammamish, 2015 - 2021
  • Letter of Agreement between North Bend and FPD No. 10 interpreting Section 8.2 of agreement (12/1998)
  • Agreement between Snoqualmie and Eastside Fire and Rescue to provide services to a portion of Eastside territory served more appropriately by Snoqualmie rather than Eastside from 2-1-99 to 12-31-03, (4/1999)

Cowlitz 2 Fire and Rescue and the City of Longview

While no longer functioning as a joint operating agency, MRSC has provided the documents relating to the joint operating agreement as examples. The merging of fire management services for Longview Fire Department and Cowlitz 2 Fire and Rescue, began with a 1997 agreement to share services. In 1998 the city and the fire district signed a functional consolidation agreement. This merger was to minimize duplication of employees, develop consistency in the training of personnel, achieve cost stabilization and better provide for the safety and welfare of the public. On July 1, 2001 the Longview Fire Department and Cowlitz 2 Fire and Rescue officially de-merged and are now two separate entities.

  • Longview /Cowlitz 2 Fire Interlocal Agreement for Functional Consolidation of Management of Fire Services, Longview, 8-98.

Marysville and Marysville Fire District No. 12

The Marysville Fire District was formed as a joint operating agency in 1991 between the Marysville Fire Department and Snohomish County Fire District 12 forming a new agency called Marysville Fire District with a separate board of directors. In 1998 Fire Snohomish Fire District No. 20 joined Marysville Fire District. In 2002 the district merged with Fire District No. 12. The Marysville Fire District currently provides services to those properties residing within the City of Marysville and Fire District 12 (Sunnyside, Tulalip West, Smokey Point, Lakewood, Lake Goodwin, Seven Lakes).

  • Marysville and Snohomish County FPD No. 12 Agreement for Joint Operation of Fire and Emergency Medical Protection Facilities, (10/1991)
  • Marysville and Snohomish County FPD No. 12 Agreement for Joint Operation of Fire and Emergency Medical protection Facilities Update (9/1993)
  • Marysville and Snohomish County FPD No. 12 and FPD No. 20 Agreement for Consolidation of Fire and Emergency Medical Services (10/1997)

Port Angeles and Clallam County Fire District No. 2

  • Interlocal agreement for functional consolidation of volunteer fire fighter programs by and between Clallam Fire District No. 2 and Port Angeles, effective 1/2007

Snohomish County Fire District No. 1

  • Mountlake Terrace and Snohomish Fire District No. 1 - In January of 2005, the city of Mountlake Terrace entered into an Interlocal Agreement with Snohomish County Fire District No. 1 (SCFD1) which provides for a full consolidation of the two departments and the approval of long-term contracts for Fire District 1 to provide fire and emergency medical services to both Mountlake Terrace and Brier. Under the terms of the Agreement, SCFD1 will staff the Mountlake Terrace's two fire stations

    Under the terms of a March 2001 transitional fire services agreement between Mountable Terrace and Fire District No. 1, the Fire District would manage and direct the city's fire department over the next five years, while a full consolidation is assessed and explored. The agreement provided for the implementation of fire-based advanced life support service on January 1, 2002 and the consolidation of Mountlake Terrace's Fire Station No. 18 with the District's Station No. 22. The realization of these changes would provide a more efficient, systemic service delivery while insuring the maintenance of high quality fire and emergency medical service.
  • Edmonds and Snohomish County Fire District No. 1

Monroe & Snohomish County Fire District No. 3

Fire protection and emergency medical services within the city of Monroe were provided through a joint operation of the city of Monroe and Snohomish County Fire District 3. A joint operating board made up of three elected commissioners and three city council members governed the fire department In March of 2006 Monroe annexed to the fire district.

East Jefferson Fire and Rescue and Port Townsend

Interlocal agreement for joint operation and management of fire services between Port Townsend and Jefferson County Fire District 1 (East Jefferson Fire Rescue); includes a joint oversight board; term is for 3 years beginning January 1, 2006, and continues thereafter until terminated. Jefferson County Fire District No. 6 merged with Fire District No. 1 in 2005.

Vancouver and Clark Co. Fire District No. 5

In 1994, the Vancouver Fire Department and Fire District No. 5 consolidated to form the fifth largest department in the state of Washington. The department currently serves 186,000 people across a 100-square-mile area.


Regional Fire Protection Service Authorities

Two or fire protection jurisdictions – defined as fire districts, regional fire protection service authorities, cities, towns, port districts, municipal airports, or Indian tribes – may join together to create a regional fire protection service authority under chapter 52.26 RCW. A regional fire authority is a special purpose district and independent taxing authority, and voters must approve its formation.

The participating fire protection jurisdictions must be located within reasonable proximity, defined as "geographical areas near enough to each other so that governance, management, and services can be delivered effectively."

For more information and examples, see our page Regional Fire Protection Service Authorities.


Recommended Resources


Last Modified: April 24, 2018