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Introduction

In 2004, the Washington Fire Chiefs (WFC) led a legislative effort to provide fire districts, municipalities and tribal nations the ability to “formally” join together in the provision of fire and emergency services. This ability had formerly been available via mergers (between fire districts); annexations (by cities into fire districts, or by cities of unincorporated territory previously protected by fire districts); through interlocal agreements or contractual consolidations (between any set of entities related to specific operational items like “training”, “administrative services”, or for entire department operations); and joint powers agreements (basically an agreement allowing entities to share resources and authority via a contractual arrangement). All of these “tools” are still available to the fire service and used by many agencies. A new “tool” in the tool kit, adopted by the State Legislature in 2004, is the Regional Fire Authority (RFA).

 

The RFA, is a municipal corporation which allows fire districts, municipalities (city departments), or tribal nations to join together for the provision of fire and emergency services. The RFA can combine fire districts to fire district; city to city; fire district to city; or any combination one can think of. Organized under Title 52 of the RCW (Revised Code of Washington), the RFA operates very similar to that of a fire district (also organized under the auspices of Title 52 RCW. The RFA has its strengths built around the formation of a “planning committee”, who establishes the vision, operational aspects, and funding methodology for the RFA prior to taking it to the ballot for citizens in all affected areas to determine if the RFA is right for them. The RFA can combine entire fire departments (as stated earlier, in various combinations); or, it can be used to establish operational guidelines and a funding mechanism for subsets of fire departments such as “Hazardous Materials RFA”, “Paramedic/ALS Service RFA”, “Training RFA”, etc. While the RFA is still considered a new tool in the fire service tool kit, its advantages will be seen over the years as different methodologies and uses of the RFA come to pass.

 

In a joint venture, the Washington Fire Chiefs (WFC) and the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters (WSCFF) have developed this implementation guide to assist agencies in determining if the RFA is right for them; then, if that determination is made in the positive, how to initiate the RFA process.

RFA GUIDE COMMITTEE

Jim Walkowski, Fire Chief 
East Jefferson Fire & Rescue                

 Craig Soucy7th District
  Washington State Council of Fire Fighters

Rick Marshall, Fire Chief
Renton Regional Fire Authority  

Keven Rojecki, 9th District
Washington State Council of Fire Fighters

FAQ's

What is an RFA?

An RFA is an abbreviation for Regional Fire Authority, which is the common term for what the state law refers to as a Regional Fire Protection Services Authority. The RFA law is a legal process to allow the voters of that area to consider fire service consolidation and regionalization of services to produce service efficiencies. The RFA encourages Fire Districts and Municipal Fire Departments to consider consolidation by treating both entities equally.

Where can I learn more about the law that allows the RFA?

Recent changes to state law now allow the process of forming an RFA, RCW 52.26 (http://app.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=52.26)

Why combine services?

The purpose of the Regional Fire Authority is to provide citizens with the best level of fire protection and emergency medical services through combined resources. The cost of maintaining and improving fire protection and emergency medical services has increased substantially. Combining services may provide the most cost-effective service for our citizens through economies of scale, macro-service delivery strategies, removing duplication and erasing borders.

How big can an RFA be?

Basically, as big as you want it to be.  The vision dictates that this new RFA must demonstrate value for the citizens now and into the future. Current RFA’s include Valley Regional Fire Authority (VRFA), which combined the cities of Auburn, Algona and Pacific, and Riverside RFA which combined Lewis County Fire Protection District #12 and the city of Centralia. Both of these RFAs are working very well within their plan and vision.


How is the RFA set up?

The law allows the establishment of a RFA Planning Committee to explore the process of regionalization. The Planning Committee then creates the RFA Steering Committee to provide the information necessary for the

Who are the members of the committees?

The members of the RFA Planning Committee for any planning process include three (3) members from each participating agency. Thus, if you were looking to combine two (2) cities and two (2) fire districts, the Planning Committee would be comprised of twelve (12) members (6- City Council members representing the 2 cities, and 6- Commissioners representing the 2 fire districts).

When and where are the meetings held?

The RFA Planning Committee establishes meetings on a regular basis at an established time and location (which can rotate as deemed proper by the Planning Committee). The purpose of these meetings is to gather information for the development of the Plan. These should be open public meetings to allow for public input, as well as their education on the RFA concept.

How the work is accomplished and is there a time line?

The process of developing the RFA work plan will be for the Steering Committee to develop strategic statements for all of the project task items and once approved by the Planning Committee, then organize the work and produce a recommendation in a timely manner for consideration by the Planning Committee.

How will the RFA be funded?

The funding options for the Regional Fire Authority are the same as those available for the Fire Districts. Those options include property tax funded fire levies, EMS levies, bonds, excess levies. Benefit service charges are considered a fee for service and are permitted in lieu of the last fifty cents of property tax funded fire levy revenue. Finally, non-tax revenue, such as transport fees, contracts and other assessments are available as possible funding sources. Any funding mechanism must be approved by the voters by the same majority that the fire district measures required.

When the RFA is approved by the voters, what happens to existing career and volunteer personnel?

All personnel (career and volunteer) from all involved agencies would be transferred to the new department and retain their status through new agreements. Some member’s assignments may change to support emergency service delivery improvements. The key to a successful transition is to involve Labor early in the process, and ensure that wages, hours and working conditions are negotiated as per RCW 41.56.

Is it mandatory for the Labor Unions to combine when an RFA is formed which covers two or more organized labor groups?

No it is not. However, it is strongly suggested that Labor be involved from the beginning when contemplating and developing an RFA. Their input and support will be extremely important in the successful implementation of an RFA. Additionally, it is strongly suggested to work together with Labor under the auspices of RCW 41.56 related to collective bargaining to ensure that all members are handled fairly with regards to wages, hours and working conditions. While different labor groups may work under different collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) for a short period of time during the inception of an RFA, it is strongly suggested that a new CBA be fairly negotiated and implemented by both parties as soon as is practical.

Does the law allow additional fire districts or municipalities to join the RFA after it has been formed? Can two or more RFA’s join together or merge?

Yes. Under current law, adjacent jurisdictions are allowed to merge and formally join an RFA.

What happens when a City annexes into a Fire District?

When a City annexes into a Fire District, the City’s property tax levy capacity increases from $3.375 per $1000 of assessed valuation to $3.60 per $1000 of assessed valuation, less the amount the Fire District collects (either $1.50 or $1.00) and any funds collected by a Library District  (up to $0.50). Does the same thing happen when a City becomes part of an RFA?

No. The statute does not allow for the same benefit to a City annexing into a Fire District (the increase in property tax levy availability) as when a City becomes part of an RFA.


What is the impact of LEOFF 1 liabilities on parties considering formation of a Regional Fire Authority (RFA)?

The obligation for LEOFF 1 liabilities (especially for retired members) would succeed to the surviving entity just as if that new entity had incurred the obligation in the first place (much like a “successor employer” succeeding to the obligations of its predecessor under collective bargaining agreements).This is true whether the combination were a fire district merger or formation of an RFA. The surviving entity (an RFA in this circumstance) would be responsible for all LEOFF 1 liability previously incurred by the former fire agencies (i.e. former fire districts or municipalities now involved with the RFA). The exception to this relates to cities that enter an RFA.  They can choose to retain LEOFF1 liabilities for retired employees.  All LEOFF1 employees that retire after the formation will be the liability of the RFA.


Can the governing body members of a regional fire authority (RFA) formed under chapter 52.26 RCW be compensated for their services under the existing laws?

The answer is yes. While not expressly stated within RCW 52.26, the opinion of Legal Counsel is that Governing Bodies may indeed be compensated for their attendance at meetings much like that of Fire District

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