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.
While Article XI, Section 11 of the Washington State Constitution allows counties, cities and towns to provide for “local police, sanitary, and other regulations,” there actually is no specific statute that requires them to provide fire protection services. There is also no specific requirement for a Port District to provide fire protection services. However, as a practical matter most of these jurisdictions provide fire protection services in one of these ways:
- Maintaining a fire department run by the agency’s own personnel
- Forming a fire protection district (counties as well as cities and towns may form a district)
- Contracting with another city or fire protection district for fire protection services
- Annexing directly to a fire protection district with voter approval
- Establishing a regional fire protection authority with voter approval
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 each jurisdiction’s legislative body to determine.
In addition to providing fire protection services, jurisdictions that have adopted the International Fire Code (IFC) create a position of fire code official, often referred to as the Fire Marshal. Specific job duties will differ by jurisdiction, but the Fire Marshal is typically responsible for enforcement of the IFC, which regulates fire safety matters related to new and existing facilities, for arson investigation, and for fire permits.
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.
The statutes regarding performance measures for fire departments are listed below:
- Ch. 35.103 RCW – Cities and Towns
- Ch. 35A.92 RCW – Code Cities
- Ch. 52.33 RCW – Fire Protection Districts and Regional Fire Service Authorities
- Ch. 53.56 RCW – Port Districts
Emergency medical services (EMS) in Washington can be provided by city fire departments, regional fire service authorities, and fire districts as well as by public hospital districts, and private ambulance services. See the MRSC page on Emergency Medical Services Provision in Washington State.
Cities and towns with at least one full-time fire employee, including the fire chief, are required to establish a fire civil service system, and a fire civil service commission (Ch. 41.08 RCW).
Fire protection districts with a fully-paid fire department may, but are not required to, provide for civil service (RCW 52.30.040).
Port districts may, but are not required to, establish a fire civil service system.
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)).
For further information on this topic, see our Civil Service page.
- RCW 35.21.770/35A.11.110 – City councilmember may serve as volunteer firefighter, volunteer ambulance personnel, and/or reserve law enforcement officer, if approved by resolution adopted by two-thirds of the city council
- RCW 52.14.010(3) – Fire district commissioner may serve as volunteer firefighter, if approved by unanimous resolution of the board
- RCW 52.26.080(3) – Applies statute to regional fire authorities
- RCW 35.21.772/52.30.070 – Volunteer members of city fire departments or fire protection districts (except the fire chief) may be appointed or elected to any public office unless otherwise prohibited by law
- U.S. Department of Labor Opinion Letter (2006) – Discusses what is "nominal" payment to volunteers under FLSA and what it means to be volunteering either for the "same public entity" or be performing "the same type of services" as a volunteer performs as part of his or her employment
- Snure Law Office: Memorandum to Fire District and Regional Fire Authorities (2019) – Regarding the use of volunteer firefighters and the taxability of the compensation paid to volunteers under FLSA
- RCW 36.32.470 – Fire protection, ambulance or other emergency services provided by municipal corporations within county — Financial and other assistance authorized
Fire Protection District
- Title 52 RCW – Provides for formation of fire protection districts
Regional Fire Protection Service Authority
- Ch 52.26 RCW – Authorizes the formation of regional fire protection authorities whose boundaries are coextensive with two or more adjacent fire protection jurisdictions
For more information, see the MRSC page on Regional Fire Protection Service Authorities.
City and Town
All Cities and Towns
- Ch. 35.02 RCW – Annexation/incorporation of fire protection district
- RCW 35.13.215 - .249 – Annexation of fire districts
- RCW 35.21.030 – Allows cities and towns to provide water for fire protection
- RCW 35.21.775 – Allows cities to provide fire protection services to state-owned facilities. State has authority to provide service itself or by a fire protection district.
- RCW 52.02.160 - .180 – Allows a city to form a separate fire protection district within the city; must be approved by simple majority of voters. City council may serve as ex officio fire commissioners, or it may relinquish governance to a board of independently elected commissioners (RCW 52.14.140).
First Class Cities
- RCW 35.22.280 (22) – Provides authority to provide for the prevention and extinguishment of fires
- RCW 35.22.280 (23) – Provides authority to set fire limits and establish building regulations
Second Class Cities
- RCW 35.23.440 (19) – Authority to control combustibles
- RCW 35.23.440 (21) – Authority to establish a fire department
- RCW 35.23.440 (50) – Authority to establish safety and sanitary measures, including fire escapes
- RCW 35.27.370 (6) – Authority to provide fire engines and means for prevention and extinguishment of fires
- RCW 35.27.400 – Authority to establish fire limits
- RCW 35A.11.020 – Powers vested in legislative bodies of noncharter and charter code cities - Includes civil service and retirement system for firefighters
- 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 (fire prevention services would be included in this department)
Council-Manager Plan Cities
- RCW 35.18.080 – Authorizes the creation of departments (used with authority of the class of city to create a fire department)
Other Fire Protection Statutes
- RCW 14.08.120 (2) – 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
- Chapter 39.34 RCW – Authorizes any two or more public agencies to enter into agreements with one another for joint or cooperative action
- RCW 35.21.775 – Provision of fire protection services to state-owned facilities (Cities and Towns)
- RCW 35.84.040 – Allows any municipalities to fight fires outside its corporate limits
- RCW 52.30.020 – Property of public agency included within district -- Contracts for services (Fire Districts)
- RCW 76.04.135 – Provides that 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 – Provides intent of state fire protection services
- RCW 43.43.960-.964 – Establishes seven 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. To view the latest mobilization plan, visit the Washington State Patrol’s page on All Risk Mobilization.
- Ch. 43.44 RCW – 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
- RCW 53.25.100 – Port districts in which industrial development districts have been established may provide fire protection facilities and services