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, an FPD receives many specific powers. (The statutes that outline these powers and duties are in RSMo. 321.220 for most FPDs and 321.600 for FPDs located in first class counties.) As authorized by the state, these powers are:
- To have perpetual existence.
- To have and use a corporate seal (also 321.170).
- To sue and be sued, which is part of being a political subdivision.
- To contract for district affairs and 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 (limited by 321.506).
- To borrow money with voter approval and issue bonds and notes.
- To acquire and finance fire stations and equipment.
- To refund bonds without holding an election (if better interest is possible).
- To manage the affairs of the FPD.
- 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 FPD and to return them in certain cases.
- To adopt bylaws and protection-and-prevention ordinances, with violations being misdemeanors.
- To pay court costs and 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 to provide fire protection to an adjoining city or village for a negotiated fee (also 321.223).
- To provide insurance benefits for volunteers.
- To contract with volunteer departments to provide insurance benefits for their volunteers.
FPDs also have the power to levy and collect taxes (321.230) and by law (190.205.1; 190.250; 190.827; 321.220; 321.226; 321.228.3; 321.322) may, with limitations, also assess and collect fees for services such as ambulance services (see Service Fees in Chapter VIII. Property and Sales Taxes and Fees for more details).
Like all political subdivisions, FPDs also have power to cooperate or contract with other governmental units for joint powers such as authorization to buy surplus property of United States government (70.100); payment by the United States in lieu of taxes (70.170); centralized emergency dispatching system (70.225); LAGERS — the Missouri Local Government Employees’ Retirement System (70.605); contracts for mutual aid (MA) services (44.090; 70.837; 190.107; 320.090); and required memorandum of understanding (MOU) between a dispatch agency and an ambulance service (190.134) or between an emergency response agency (EMRA) and ambulance service providers (190.133.1).
Other public protection duties
The list of powers, while extensive, might seem to be quite limiting because it restricts FPDs’ authorities to these things only. These mandates have proven not to be as limiting as they appear, however. FPDs have been able to provide hazard mitigation (HazMat) response, first responder operations, respond to chemical spills and fish kills, and other public protection situations unheard of when FPDs first were authorized. In addition to these powers, any FPD has the authority to operate an ambulance service, if voters approve (321.225 or 321.620); however, FPDs not in first class counties must operate only an emergency ambulance service.
If voters approve, an FPD also has the authority to support an ambulance service, and partial or complete support for an emergency medical technician defibrillator program, or an emergency medical technician paramedic first responder program (321.225.6)
FPDs authorized by the voters and licensed by Missouri to provide ambulance services may participate in ambulance reimbursement allowance programs such as MO HealthNet (190.818-190.827) and regulate and/or operate stretcher van services (190.528).
(See Chapter XIX. Ambulance and Emergency Medical Services for more information regarding FPD-based ambulance and emergency medical services.)
The list or powers includes FPDs fining people and putting them in jail. However, the question an FPD should ask is: “Should we adopt ordinances?”
The county prosecutor prosecutes FPD ordinances; however, many county prosecutors’ offices are overloaded with more serious crimes. Sometimes a county prosecutor is willing to appoint the FPD’s attorney as a special prosecutor to prosecute FPD ordinances (321.220.12 or 321.600.12). However, while the county pays the county prosecutor, the FPD usually has to pay the special prosecutor. In first class counties, the accused may pay a fine instead of going to court. If convicted, a judge can levy fines up to $1,000, send someone to jail for up to six months or both. Any fines levied by the court are distributed to the school districts.
Bylaws are adopted only once by an FPD. A majority vote is required to adopt the FPD’s original bylaws. Once adopted, changes or amendments to FPD bylaws are usually subject to a two-thirds vote with notice at a previous meeting. Bylaws can never be suspended, so avoid specifics such as meeting times, locations, etc., in the bylaws.
While the concepts of bylaws may be familiar to many people, to develop bylaws, an FPD should consult with a Professional Registered Parliamentarian or with an attorney with experience in parliamentary or corporate law.
Bylaws that are appropriate for a business corporation or social organization may be redundant for an FPD due to the constitution or statutes. Redundancy can be particularly confusing if the constitution and/or a statute, or their interpretation, is changed and the bylaws become in conflict with constitutional or statutory change or interpretation.
Instead of having bylaws, FPDs may want to consider using special rules of order or standing rules.