A fire authority is an intergovernmental entity that serves as an organization where multiple agencies can collaborate to provide fire protection services.
A fire authority’s primary advantages include efficiency and economy of scale.
Only Washington has legislation for the creation of a fire authority specifically. Most states with a fire authority allow for all public agencies to enter into agreements to jointly exercise power.
In a geographic area, there may be several different entities responsible for providing fire services for the people who live in that area. In MO, fire services are provided either by a fire association, fire protection district (FPD), or a fire department. To learn more about how these organizations are funded, staffed, and overseen read our Science Note Fire Protection Services.
According to surveys of emergency responders, effective intergovernmental agencies must have frequent interactions with each other so that direct personal connections can be established before an emergency (Danczyk 2007).
In Missouri, fire service providers can participate in four levels of cooperation which are consolidation, contract, automatic aid, and mutual. Fire authority is a model of collaboration used by some states in the West (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Levels of collaboration between fire service providers with consolidation being the highest level of collaboration and mutual aid being the lowest (Witt, personal communication).
A fire authority is an organization model by which two or more tax-based fire jurisdictions can formally collaborate in providing fire services to a shared area. For example, an FPD and a city could agree to come together and form a fire authority. This would allow areas that are in the FPD but are closer to a fire station in the city to be served by the city. The organizations come to an agreement on a budget and how the jurisdictions are charged when the contract is formed.
Minimizing redundancies in staff and consolidating training can help reduce overhead costs (Witt, Slosson, personal communication). Fire authorities use only one set of administrative staff: one fire chief, one assistant chief, one administrative assistant, etc. As for leadership, all parties are equally represented on the governing board. That may look like a board composed of city council members, members from an FPD’s board of directors, individuals appointed by these groups, or elected officials from the represented areas.
MI, CA, UT, WA, and OR have active fire authorities. In WA, legislation specifically governs the formation of a fire authority. By contrast, in CA, UT, and OR, the law allows any public service providers to jointly share power. This includes fire service providers, who can form a fire authority. In MI, two or more municipalities may form an authority to provide emergency services, including fire services. See Table 1 for an example of a fire authority in each state.
Washington. The Regional Fire Protection Service Authorities allows for the creation of fire authorities. A “fire protection service authority” is composed of any two or more fire protection jurisdictions close to each other. A planning committee, composed of three elected officials of each participating governing body, outlines the governance, design, financing, and development of fire protection and emergency services for the proposed fire authority.
The outline is voted on by the residents of the participating fire protection jurisdictions. The fire authority may be funded by benefit charges and/or property taxes. A fire protection jurisdiction may withdraw from a fire service authority either by approval of the board, by the town/city council, or by the governing body of the fire protection district. A fire protection jurisdiction may reannex into a fire authority as well. If territory is annexed to a participating jurisdiction, it is also annexed to the fire authority.
Michigan. Act 57 of 1988 allows local municipalities to create entities that provide emergency services. The authority’s jurisdiction is comprised of the total territory within the municipalities. An authority is subject to all state laws.
California, Utah, Oregon. In these states, local governments/ public agencies can agree to share power, which may include the creation of an interlocal entity, such as a fire authority. These entities must be approved by an appropriate legislative body. They are separate from the agencies that have created them and are a public body subject to the same state laws as all other public bodies. Agreements to form an interlocal entity generally have the following information:
The agencies are governed by a board that represents all the public agencies that have created the interlocal entity. The legislation that allows for this cooperation is the Joint Exercise of Powers Act in CA, the Interlocal Cooperation Act in UT, and the Intergovernmental cooperation in OR.
(n.d.). Retrieved from Valley Regional Fire Authority: https://www.vrfa.org/
California Legislature. (n.d.). Article 1. Joint Powers Agreements [6500 - 6539.9]. Retrieved from California Legislative Information: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displayText.xhtml?lawCode=GOV&division=7.&title=1.&part=&chapter=5.&article=1.
City of Portland, Portland Township, Danby Township. (2015, March 2). First Amended Joint Fire- and Emergency- Services Agreement. Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/d/1HF2L0-84tG3Jdc6Da_dXCIorwcuQCEgt/view
Danczyk, P. A. (2007, October ). Intergovernmental Interaction in Threat Preparedness and Response - California's Approach. Retrieved from Pennsylvania State University: https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/document?repid=rep1&type=pdf&doi=2282dde46e46d89630127b5287d5d9c740bce851
History of UFA. (n.d.). Retrieved from Unified Fire Authority: https://unifiedfire.org/history-of-ufa/
Lane County. (2022, October 1). Charge Schedule Distribution Listing. Retrieved from Lane County: https://cdnsm5-hosted.civiclive.com/UserFiles/Servers/Server_3585797/File/Government/County%20Departments/Assessment%20and%20Taxation/2022-23%20Tax%20Reports/2022-23%20Principal%20Distribution%20Schedule.pdf
Lane Fire Authority. (n.d.). Retrieved from Lane Fire Authority: https://www.lanefire.org/
Michigan Legislature. (n.d.). Emergency Services to Municipalities Act 57 of 1988. Retrieved from Michigan Legislature: https://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(n5scaporyapgsdo11zm2ko0y))/mileg.aspx?page=getObject&objectName=mcl-124-602
Office of the Washington State Auditor Pat McCarthy. (2022, March 31). Financial Statements Audit Report Valley Regional Fire Authority. Retrieved from Valley Regional Fire Authority: https://www.vrfa.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/2020-VRFA-Financial-Audit-Report.pdf
Oregon Legislature. (n.d.). Chapter 190 - Cooperation of Governmental Units; State Census; Arbitration. Retrieved from Oregon Legislature: https://www.oregonlegislature.gov/bills_laws/ors/ors190.html
Portland Fire Authority. (n.d.). Retrieved from Portland Fire Authority: https://www.portlandfiremi.com/
SCIConsulting Group. (2021, July). Wheatland Fire Authority Fire Suppression and Protection Services Assessment Engineer's Report. Retrieved from Wheatland Fire Authority: https://www.wheatlandfireauthority.org/files/293ae2ddb/Wheatland-Fire-Authority-Engineers-Report-year-2021-2022.pdf
Slosson, B. (2023, August). Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal of Washington. (S. Anderson, Interviewer)
Unified Fire Authority. (2023, June 20). UFA FY23/24 Budget. Retrieved from Unified Fire Authority: https://unifiedfire.org/wp-content/uploads/DigitalBudgetBookprintNewSmall.pdf
Utah Legislature. (n.d.). Chapter 13 Interlocal Cooperation Act. Retrieved from Utah State Legislature: https://le.utah.gov/xcode/Title11/Chapter13/11-13.html
Washington State Legislature. (n.d.). Chapter 52.26 RCW REgional Fire Protection Service Authorities. Retrieved from Washington Sate Legislature: https://app.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=52.26
Wheatland Fire Authority. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wheatland Fire Authority: https://www.wheatlandfireauthority.org/
Witt, S. (2023, August). California Office of the State Fire Marshal Deputy Chief. (S. Anderson, Interviewer)