Rules for Missouri Fire Protection Districts
Parenthetical numbers in the text refer to sections of the current Revised Statutes of Missouri, abbreviated as RSMo.
List of powers
By becoming a political subdivision, a fire protection district receives 18 specific powers. (The statutes that outline these powers and duties are in RSMo. 321.220 for most fire districts and 321.600 for districts located in St. Louis County.) As authorized by the state, these powers are:
- To have perpetual existence.
- To have and use a corporate seal.
- To sue and be sued, which is part of being a political subdivision.
- To contract for facilities or services to control or prevent fires (including water supply, hydrant and alarm systems), provided it takes bids for expenditures of $10,000 or more.
- To borrow money with voter approval and issue bonds and notes.
- To have fire stations and equipment.
- To refund bonds without holding an election (if better interest is possible).
- To manage the affairs of the district.
- To hire agents, employees (including part-time or volunteer firefighters), engineers and attorneys.
- To condemn private property for public use under eminent domain laws.
- To receive gifts to the district and to return them in certain cases.
- To adopt bylaws and protection-and-prevention ordinances, with violations being misdemeanors.
- To pay court costs and initial election costs.
- To have rights and powers necessary, incidental to or implied to or by the specific powers granted.
- To provide health, accident, disability and retirement benefits to salaried department members and their families.
- To contract with an adjoining city or village to provide fire protection for a negotiated fee.
- To provide insurance benefits for volunteers.
- To contract with volunteer departments to provide insurance benefits for their volunteers. (This power is not available to fire districts in St. Louis County.)
Other public protection duties
In addition to these powers, an FPD has the authority to operate an emergency ambulance service, if voters approve (321.225.). The author of this publication is aware of one FPD that has operated an ambulance without first receiving voter approval, although that practice is problematic, even if it is not necessary to have an additional tax to fund the ambulance service.
The list of powers above, while extensive, might seem to be quite limiting because it restricts districts’ authorities to only these things. These mandates have proven not to be as limiting as they appear, however. Districts have been able to gear up for hazard mitigation, or HazMat, response, First Responder operations, response to chemical spills and fish kills, and other activities that address public protection needs unheard of when districts first were authorized.
The statutes include a restriction that only applies to fire protection districts in the state: “The board, acting as a board, shall exercise all powers of the board, without delegation thereof to any other body or entity or association, and without delegation thereof to less than a quorum of the board” (321.200). This means that fire district board members act as a group, not as individuals. Authorizing a member, including the chief or the office manager, to act for the board is strictly prohibited. The board is the decision-making body. However, the board can assign duties to the fire chief, other officials and employees, that may involve what lawyers call “ministerial duties” to carry out the board’s policies.
The origins of statute 321.200 are uncertain. However, the statute emphasizes the board’s authority to make decisions by stating that the fire protection district — not the former volunteer fire protection association — is in charge of the equipment, the personnel and the procedures for the district. The transfer of decision making from the entire group of firefighters to a smaller group of three or five people, some of whom may know little about fighting fires, often can be a difficult transition. This statute reinforces the district board’s legal authority and responsibilities.