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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.

It is part of MRSC's series on Interlocal Cooperation.


Interlocal 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 our Local Government Fire Protection Service Providers webpage.


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 RCWInterlocal Cooperation Act
  • Title 52 RCWFire Protection Districts. Includes annexation of fire districts, annexation of cities and towns to fire districts, and merger of fire districts

Fire Service Contracts

Only a few cities contract with other cities for fire protection services. Most such service arrangements involve contracts between cities and fire protection districts for fire protection, EMS, and related services. Below are a few selected examples.

Cities Providing Fire Protection Services 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 nearby 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 Fire Protection Services to Fire Districts

Fire Districts Providing Fire Protection Services to Cities

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.

Cities/Fire Districts Providing Service to Other Government Agencies

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. "Reasonable proximity" means "geographical areas near enough to each other so that governance, management, and services can be delivered effectively."

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.

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


Below are a few sample resolutions, ordinances and agreements that have been used in the implementation of city and fire district annexations.

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).


Below are some sample documents relating to one partial and one full fire district merger.

Joint Operating Agreements

Where local governments operate fire services within proximity to one another, joint operating agreements can often provide opportunities for achieving greater administrative and operational efficiencies in delivering fire services. Below are some examples of joint operating agreements between fire districts and cities that demonstrate this concept.


Regional Fire Protection Service Authorities

Two or more 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.

Other Examples of Interlocal Cooperation

Below is an example of a job description and interlocal agreement:

Recommended Resources

Last Modified: February 27, 2024