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 provider. 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 redundancies 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 apparatuses 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 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.
Are Districts Structured Different from Departments?
The structure is typical of a city department. However, due to the need to often cover large areas that have little or no fire hydrant system you will find apparatus to move water tenders. You will also often find smaller fire trucks, call brush trucks to respond more effectively to grass and wildland fires.
The big difference is how they are governed and funded. A city fire department is governed by the city manager and city council. The fire department is funded by the same revenue sources that the entire city is funded by. These funds are shared by all departments within the city.
A fire district is governed by a fire board. This board is typically 5 to 7 people. The people on the fire board are usually a representative from each community within the district. A fire district is typically funded by property taxes from the communities within their response area.
Fire districts often have more flexibility in managing their budge, their budget is also often much more predictable and stable. Property taxes typically do not see big increases and decrease over time. A city budget, however, can have large swings in budget, both from predicted and unpredicted economic impacts. This can, at times, have a big impact on a fire department operating budget.