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AGLO 1976 No. 19 - March 18, 1976
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

DISTRICTS ‑- FIRE PROTECTION ‑- SEWER ‑- CITIES AND TOWNS ‑- SEWER DISTRICT LIABILITY FOR FIRE PROTECTION SERVICES

RCW 52.36.020, requiring contracts for fire protection services to other municipalities, is inapplicable to municipal property situated within an incorporated city or town even though such property is adjacent to a fire protection district.

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                                                                  March 18, 1976

Honorable John Cunningham
State Senator, 33rd District
Legislative Building
Olympia, Washington 98504                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1976 No. 19

Dear Sir:

            By recent letter you have inquired regarding the applicability of RCW 52.36.020 to certain property situated within the boundaries of the incorporated city of Des Moines which is owned by a designated sewer district.  For the reasons hereinafter set forth it is our opinion that this statute is inapplicable to the property in question.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            As indicated in AGO 1976 No. 2 [[to John Cunningham, State Senator, on January 14, 1976]], written to you earlier this year, RCW 52.36.020 provides for the execution of contracts to cover necessary fire protection services rendered by fire protection districts to other governmental agencies.  This statute reads, in material part, as follows:

            "Wherever a fire protection district has been organized which includes within its area or is adjacent to, buildings and equipment, except those leased to a nontax exempt person or organization, owned by the legislative or administrative authority of a state agency or institution or a municipal corporation, the agency or institution or municipal corporation involved shall contract with such district for fire protection services necessary for the protection and safety of personnel and property pursuant to the provisions of chapter 39.34 RCW, as now or hereafter amended: . . ."

            As we further explained in our prior opinion, however, no property located within an incorporated city or town can be said to be simultaneously within the boundaries of a fire protection district because of RCW 52.22.030 (quoted on page 3 of AGO 1976 No. 2), which reads as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "Effective January 1, 1960, every city or town, or portion thereof, which is situated within the boundaries of a fire protection district shall become automatically removed from such fire protection district, and no fire protection district shall thereafter include any city or town, or portion thereof, within its boundaries."

            According to information which you have supplied us with your present request, a certain sewer district (a municipal corporation within the meaning of RCW 52.36.020) owns two parcels of land within the city of Des Moines.  One of those parcels is completely surrounded by other property within the city and thus does not physically border upon its external boundaries.  The other parcel, although also situated within the city, does abut upon one of the external boundaries thereof ‑ and thus upon the common boundary of an adjacent fire protection district.

            Clearly, the first of these two parcels is not covered by RCW 52.36.020,supra, because it can neither be said to be situated within a fire protection district nor to be adjacent thereto.  Conversely, however, the second parcel of sewer district property described in your request, although also situated within the city (and thus, not within a fire protection district), is, according to your letter, adjacent to such a district.  Thus, with respect to this parcel we are presented with a somewhat closer question.

            In our opinion, however, RCW 52.36.020, supra, is inapplicable to this second parcel of sewer district property as well.  We base this conclusion on so much of the statute as says that another municipality owning buildings or equipment within or adjacent to a fire protection district

            ". . . shall contract with such district for fire protection servicesnecessary for the protection and safety of personnel and property . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Under state law, both incorporated cities and towns on the one hand, and fire protection districts on the other, are charged with the responsibility of providing fire protection services within their respective boundaries.  Property situated within a city or town is to receive such services from that municipality, either through its own fire department or by contract with an adjoining fire protection district under RCW 52.08.030 (a statute also noted in AGO 1976 No. 2).  Similarly, property located within a fire protection district is to receive fire protection services from  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] that district.  In the case of property located within a city or town, therefore, the fire protection services of even an adjacent fire protection district are not "necessary" within the meaning of RCW 52.36.020 because the property in question is required to be provided with fire protection by the municipality in which it is thus situated.

            On the other hand, in the case of state or municipally owned property within a fire protection district, the legislature, by enacting RCW 52.36.020,supra, has conditioned the obligation of the fire protection district to provide fire protection services upon the execution of a contract.1/   But once such a contract has been executed it then likewise becomes the responsibility of the fire protection district within which the property is located to provide the property with fire protection services.

            This leaves us, obviously, only with the peculiar problem of property which is not situated in either an incorporated city or town or a fire protection district.  In the case of such property, if owned by the state or a municipal corporation, the execution of a contract under RCW 52.36.020 would be appropriate because, being not otherwise served by either a city or town or a fire protection district, the fire protection services to be covered by such a contract would be ". . . necessary for the protection and safety of personnel and property . . ."  In our opinion, this is what our legislature had in mind when it included the ". . . or is adjacent to . . ." clause in RCW 52.36.020.

            In other words, if the state or a municipal corporation owns property which is not situated within either a city or town or a fire protection district, but which is adjacent to the latter, it is required by RCW 52.36.020 to enter into a contract with the fire protection district for necessary fire protection services.  But if, on the other hand, the property in question is located either within a city or town or another fire protection district, the ". . . or is adjacent to . . ." clause of the statute will be inapplicable because the situation will be outside of the purpose which that clause was apparently designed to fulfill.  It will therefore not be necessary for the  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] governmental agency owning such property to enter into a contract with the adjacent fire protection district because, in one way or another, fire protection services will be required to be afforded to the property by the city, town or fire protection district in which it is located.

            Thus, in conclusion, for the foregoing reasons it is our opinion that RCW 52.36.020,supra, is inapplicable to either of the two parcels of sewer district-owned property (within the city of Des Moines) with which your inquiry in concerned.

            We trust that the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General

PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Deputy Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/Except in the case of school districts which, as discussed in AGO 1976 No. 2 [[to John Cunningham, State Senator, on January 14, 1976]], supra, have been exempted from the requirements of so much of RCW 52.36.020 as we quoted at the outset of this opinion by a later legislative enactment; namely, § 1, chapter 88, Laws of 1974, 1st Ex. Sess.

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