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Local Government Fire Services - Authority and Requirements

This page provides information about the principal statutory authority and requirements for local fire protection services in Washington State.


Article XI, Section 11 of the Washington State Constitution provides general police powers for counties, cities and towns. There actually is not a specific statute that provides that cities must provide fire protection services.

However, as a practical matter, a city must provide some measure of fire protection. There are five possible ways for a city to provide fire protection:

  • Maintaining a fire department run by the city's own personnel
  • Contracting with another city or fire protection district for fire protection services
  • Annexing directly to a fire protection district with voter approval
  • Forming a fire protection district coextensive with the city/town with voter approval (a new provision enacted in 2017 – see ESSB 5628)
  • Establishing a regional fire protection authority with voter approval

For unincorporated areas, fire protection is provided by special districts and/or through interlocal and mutual aid agreements.

County Fire Protection Statutes

  • RCW 36.32.470 - Fire protection, ambulance or other emergency services provided by municipal corporations within county — Financial and other assistance authorized.
  • Title 52 RCW - Provides for formation of fire protection districts. County administers the filing, hearings, elections, and the formal act of creating fire protection districts; county treasurer is the fiscal agent for fire protection districts.

Fire Protection District Statutes

  • Title 52 RCW – Provides for formation of fire protection districts
  • RCW 52.02.020 – Authorizes formation of fire protection districts for provision of fire protection services, fire suppression services, emergency medical services, and for the protection of life and property in areas outside cities and towns, except where cities and towns have annexed to a fire protection district, or where such existing district is continuing service pursuant to RCW 35.02.202.
  • RCW 52.02.160 - .180 – Formation of fire protection district by city; must be approved by simple majority of voters. City council may serve as ex officio fire commissioners, or they may relinquish governance to a board of independently elected commissioners (RCW 52.14.140)

Regional Fire Protection Service Authority Statutes

City and Town Fire Protection Statutes

All Cities and Towns

  • RCW 35.02.190 - .220 – Annexation/incorporation of fire protection district - Provides for and outlines procedures for annexation/incorporation of fire protection district areas, assets, and activities upon incorporation of a new city or town. RCW 35.02.210 -.220 relates to continuation of services
  • RCW 35.13.215 - .249 – Annexation of fire districts - Provides for transfer of employees and assets in cases of annexation/incorporation of all or a portion of fire protection district into a city or town.
  • RCW 35.21.030 – Auxiliary water systems for protection from fire
  • RCW 35.21.770 – Members of legislative bodies authorized to serve as volunteer firefighters, volunteer ambulance personnel, or reserve law enforcement officers.
  • RCW 35.21.775 – Provision of fire protection services to state-owned facilities
  • RCW 35.21.778 – Provides that existing contracts (prior to 1992) for fire protection services and equipment are not abrogated.
  • RCW 35.84.040 – Fire apparatus — Use beyond city limits
  • RCW 35.84.050 – Firefighter injured outside corporate limits - Injury sustained by fire personnel outside the city or town when such injury occurs during an authorized function is deemed an injury sustained during a municipal function.
  • RCW 52.02.160 - .180 – Formation of fire protection district by city; must be approved by simple majority of voters. City council may serve as ex officio fire commissioners, or they may relinquish governance to a board of independently elected commissioners (RCW 52.14.140)

First Class Cities

  • RCW 35.22.195 - Powers of cities adopting charters - General authorization of functions.
  • RCW 35.22.280 (22) - Specific powers enumerated - Provides authority to provide for the prevention and extinguishment of fires.
  • RCW 35.22.280 (23) - Specific powers enumerated - Provides authority to set fire limits and establish building regulations.

Second Class Cities


  • Specific Powers Enumerated

Code Cities

  • RCW 35A.01.010 - Purpose and policy of this title — Interpretation - Authorizes broadest powers possible and provides that grant of authority is to be liberally construed.
  • RCW 35A.11.020 - Powers vested in legislative bodies of noncharter and charter code cities - Includes civil service and retirement system for firefighters
  • RCW 35A.11.110 - Members of legislative bodies authorized to serve as volunteer firefighters, volunteer ambulance personnel, or reserve law enforcement officers

Unclassified Cities

  • RCW 35.30.010 (8) - Additional powers - To make all such ordinances, bylaws and regulations, not inconsistent with the Constitution and laws of the state of Washington, as may be deemed expedient to maintain the peace, good government and welfare of the city, and to do and perform any and all other acts and things necessary and proper to carry out the purposes of the municipal corporation

Commission Form Cities

Note that as of 2018, there are no remaining commission cities in Washington.

  • RCW 35.17.010 (1) - Provides for a department of public safety of which the mayor shall be the superintendent.

Council-Manager Plan Cities

  • RCW 35.18.080 - City manager — Creation of departments - Authorizes the creation of departments as may be found necessary.

Other Fire Protection Statutes

  • RCW 14.08.120(2) - Municipalities Operating Airports - Any county, city, town, airport district, or port district operating airports are authorized to provide fire protection for the airport, including the acquisition and operation of fire protection equipment and facilities
  • RCW 53.25.100 - Port districts wherein industrial development districts have been established are authorized and empowered to provide, maintain, and operate fire protection facilities and services
  • Chapter 39.34 RCW - Interlocal Cooperation Act - authorizes any two or more public agencies to enter into agreements with one another for joint or cooperative action.
    • RCW 35.21.775 - Cities and Towns - Provision of fire protection services to state-owned facilities.
    • RCW 52.30.020 - Fire Districts - Property of public agency included within district -- Contracts for services
    • RCW 76.04.135 - Department of Natural Resources - Cooperative agreements - Public Agencies - Provides the department may enter into a contract or agreement with a municipality, county, state, or federal agency to provide fire detection, prevention, presuppression, or suppression services on property which they are responsible to protect.
  • RCW 43.43.930 - State fire protection services - Intent
  • RCW 43.43.960-.964 - State Fire Service Mobilization - Regional Fire Service Plans - Establishes 7 state regions, creates a regional fire defense board within each region, and requires that the regional defense boards develop regional fire service plans that include provisions for organized fire agencies to respond across municipal, county, or regional boundaries.
  • Ch. 43.44 RCW - State Fire Protection - Provides authority of Washington State Patrol through Director of Fire Protection or his or her authorized deputies to inspect public buildings, enforce fire codes, and lists responsibilities of fire chief and fire marshal for fire reporting and investigation.

General Requirements

Fire Code Official

The State Building Code Council adopted the International Fire Code. The 2009 Edition is current until July 1, 2013. Section 103.1 provides that a department of fire prevention be established within the jurisdiction under the direction of the fire code official. The function of the department shall be the implementation, administration and enforcement of the provisions of this code. Section 103.2 Provides that the fire code official shall be appointed by the chief appointing authority of the jurisdiction; and the fire code official shall not be removed from office except for cause and after full opportunity to be heard on specific and relevant charges by and before the appointing authority.

Levels of Service

State law does not contain specific requirements regarding the level of fire services to be provided by Washington counties, special districts, cities, or towns. Provision of such services and the level of service is a policy decision for the particular legislative body to determine.

Performance Measures

In 2005 legislation was enacted that required certain governmental entities (cities and towns, fire protection districts and regional fire protection service authorities, and port districts) set standards for addressing the reporting and accountability of substantially career fire departments (not volunteer fire departments), and specify performance measures applicable to response time objectives. These performance measures are comparable to research relating to substantially career fire department organization and deployment. The authority of these governmental entities to set levels of service is not modified or limited.

  • Ch. 35.103 RCW - Cities and Towns - Fire departments — performance measures
  • Ch. 35A.92 RCW - Code City - Fire departments — performance measures
  • Ch. 52.33 RCW - Fire Protection Districts and Regional Fire Service Authorities - Fire departments -- Performance measures
  • Ch. 53.56 RCW - Port District Fire Department - Performance Measures

Civil Service Requirements

Cities and Towns

If a city or town has one full-time fire employee, including the fire chief, it is required by state law to establish a fire civil service system, unless it has provided for civil service in the fire department by a system that substantially accomplishes the purposes of the state civil service provisions contained in Chapter 41.08 RCW. This includes a requirement to establish a fire civil service commission. Pursuant to RCW 41.08.050, by specific action of the governing body, a city or town may exclude a fire chief from civil service coverage provided they do so prior to that person's appointment to the position.

Regional Fire Service Authority

If a Regional Fire Service Authority is created, and if any or all of the participating fire protection jurisdictions provide for civil service in their fire departments, the collective bargaining representatives of the transferring employees and the participating fire protection jurisdictions must negotiate the establishment of a civil service system within the authority. This does not apply if none of the participating fire protection districts provide for civil service (RCW 52.26.100 (6)(b))

Last Modified: April 30, 2018