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Understanding the structure of the fire department or fire district you are applying for is very important. I have been a chief officer for both a fire district and a fire department. I will help you understand why it’s important for you to know the difference and what is the best fit for you as an new firefighter.

During the application process you will commonly see departments identified as Fire Departments or Fire Districts. I have often been asked what’s the differences between a Fire Department and A Fire District? A fire department is typically tied to a city and the boundaries of that city. The city fire department is funded by the taxes collected by that city. A Fire District is typically tied to several communities and unincorporated areas outside of these communities and is funded by property taxes from the area they serve.

Why do Districts Exist?

There are several factors that will influence the development of a fire district, however, typically the main driving factor is to bring smaller communities and unincorporated areas together under one fire service providor. This helps to provide better service to all the area while reducing redundancy in service and costs associated with this redundancy.


The next question you might ask is how can there be a redundancy in fire protection coverage? Every community needs fire trucks right? This is true however, often times small neighboring communities will have stations very close together because of the size of these communities. Each of these communities will have several types of fire apparatus as well to service each community. This close proximity and large number of apparatus causes an overlap in coverage based on time and distance. Stations staffing and apparatus are a big cost to each community. Having the ability to share these resources while providing better area coverage makes fire districts very effective.

An example of this is Northern Minnesota where several smaller townships outside of Duluth all have fire stations, they refer to them as fire halls, will several fire trucks within very close proximity of each other. Each fire hall in each community has 1 to 3 fire engines and often a ladder, water, brush, and rescue truck. Now with the development of Cloquet Area Fire District, 5 communities and unincorporated area in two counties have service provided by one fire district. This reduced the number of fire apparatus while providing all the communities with 24/7 career fire protection. As a huge bonus, Cloquet Area Fire District also provides advanced life support ambulance service to all the communities they serve.

Another example is in Northern Colorado. Mountain View Fire Protection District covers over 2 hundred square miles and 4 communities. Mountain View covers the communities, of Dacono, Erie, Mead, Niwot, and a large area of unincorporated land with 6 stations. This helps to provide better service to smaller communities that simply do not have that tax base to support a full-time career fire department. It also provides service to unincorporated county areas that do not have structured government over site and budgets like a typical city of township would.