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AGO 1975 No. 21 - October 15, 1975
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

DISTRICTS ‑- FIRE PROTECTION ‑- COUNTIES ‑- CITIES AND TOWNS ‑- ENFORCEMENT OF UNIFORM FIRE CODE

(1) Within the unincorporated areas of a county which are served by a fire protection district, the uniform fire code, as adopted pursuant to chapter 19.27 RCW, requires the fire chief and the department of that district to perform each of the administrative and enforcement functions listed in § 1.201 thereof, together with such other functions as are required, under the heading of "Administration" in Division II of the code, to be performed by the "Fire Chief" or "Fire Department."

(2) A county, however, in the exercise of its authority under RCW 19.27.040 to amend the various component parts of the state building code in certain respects, may alter the manner in which the uniform fire code is administered within any or all of its unincorporated areas through the adoption of an amendment to that code designating some other official as the "Fire Chief" for the purpose of administering and enforcing its provisions.

                                                              - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                                October 15, 1975

Honorable George Fleming
State Senator, 37th District
1100 Lake Washington Blvd. South
Seattle, Washington 98144

                                                                                                                 Cite as:  AGO 1975 No. 21

Dear Sir:

            This is written in response to your recent letter requesting our opinion on several questions regarding the duties and responsibilities of fire protection districts under the state building code act, chapter 19.27 RCW, to administer and enforce the provisions of the uniform fire code.  Specifically you have asked:

            (1) "What are the duties and responsibilities, if any, of fire protection districts under chapter 19.27 RCW for the administration and enforcement of the Uniform Fire Code which was adopted by reference as part of the State Building Code by RCW 19.27.030(3)?"

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            (2) "Does a county have any authority to direct by resolution, ordinance, or otherwise that a fire protection district within its areas of jurisdiction shall provide for all or any part of the enforcement and administration of the Uniform Fire Code under Chapter 19.27 RCW?"

            (3) "If a fire protection district has no duty or responsibility under Chapter 19.27 RCW for the administration and enforcement of the Uniform Fire Code, is a fire protection district legally precluded from expending moneys for such purposes?"

            We answer your questions in the manner set forth in our analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Question (1):

            The state building code was adopted by our legislature through its enactment of chapter 96, Laws of 1974, 1st Ex. Sess. Section 3 of this 1974 law, now codified as RCW 19.27.030, provides that:

            "On and after January 1, 1975, there shall be in effect in all cities, towns and counties of the state a state building code which shall consist of the following coees [codes] which are hereby adopted by reference:

            "(1) Uniform Building Code and Related Standards, 1973 edition, published by the International Conference of Building Officials;

            "(2) Uniform Mechanical Code, 1973 edition, including Chapter 22, Fuel Gas Piping, Appendix B, published by the International Conference of Building Officials and the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials;

            "(3)The Uniform Fire Code with appendices thereto, 1973 edition, published by the International Conference of Building Officials and the Western Fire Chiefs Association;

            "(4) The Uniform Plumbing Code, 1973 edition, published by the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials:  Provided, That chapter 11 of such code is not adopted:  Provided, That notwithstanding any wording in this code, nothing in this code shall apply to the installation of any gas piping, water heaters, or vents for water heaters; and (5) The American National Standard Specifications for  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] Making Buildings and Facilities Accessible To, and Usable By, The Physically Handicapped, published by American National Standards Institute, Inc., Document ANSI A117.1-1961 (reaffirmed 1971).  This paragraph shall supplement chapter 35, Laws of 1967 and chapter 70.92 RCW with respect to public buildings.

            "In case of conflict among the codes enumerated in subsections (1), (2), (3) and (4) of this section, the first named code shall govern over those following."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            However, § 4 of the law, now RCW 19.27.040, then goes on to provide that:

            "On and after January 1, 1975, the governing body of each city, town or county is authorized to amend the state building code as it applies within its jurisdiction in all such respects as shall be not less than the minimum performance standards and objectives enumerated in RCW 19.27.020, including, the authority to adopt any subsequent revisions to the codes in RCW 19.27.030(1), (2), (3), (4) and (5).

            "Nothing in this section shall authorize any modifications of the requirements of chapter 35, Laws of 1967, or chapter 70.92 RCW."

            Similarly, certain local flexibility with respect to the implementation of RCW 19.27.030,supra, is also contemplated by § 6 of the code, now codified as RCW 19.27.060.  See, AGLO 1975 No. 47 [[to Michael C. Redman, Prosecuting Attorney, San Juan County on May 5, 1975, an Informal Opinion, AIR-75547]]and AGLO 1974 No. 45 [[to Donald G. Garrett, State Representative on April 15, 1974 an Informal Opinion, AIR-74545]], copies enclosed.

            Insofar as local administration and enforcement are concerned, the governing section of the code is § 5, now codified as RCW 19.27.050, which provides as follows:

            "The state building code provided for in this chapter shall be administered and enforced by the respective governmental authorities.  Any governmental subdivision not having a local building department may contract with another governmental subdivision or inspection agency approved by the local governmental body for administration and enforcement of the state building code within its jurisdictional boundaries in accordance with chapter 39.34 RCW."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            For the most part, this section thus means that local responsibility for the administration and enforcement of the several components of the state building code listed in RCW 19.27.030, supra, resides with the various incorporated cities and towns, within their territorial boundaries, and with the counties as far as the unincorporated areas thereof are concerned.  In the case of the uniform fire code, however, a somewhat different situation appears to exist.

            Section 1.201 of the uniform fire code, which now constitutes a "law" of this state by reason of its unqualified adoption by reference in RCW 19.27.030,supra, states that:

            "The Chief shall be responsible for the administration and enforcement of this Code.  Under his direction, the Fire Department shall enforce all ordinances of the jurisdiction pertaining to:

            "(a) The prevention of fires.

            "(b) The suppression or extinguishing of dangerous or hazardous fires.

            "(c) The storage, use and handling of explosive, flammable, toxic, corrosive and other hazardous gaseous, solid and liquid materials.

            "(d) The installation and maintenance of automatic, manual, and other private fire alarm systems and fire‑extinguishing equipment.

            "(e) The maintenance and regulation of fire escapes.

            "(f) The maintenance of fire protection and the elimination of fire hazards on land and in buildings, structures, and other property, including those under construction.

            "(g) The means and adequacy of each exit in the event of fire, from factories, schools, hotels, lodging houses, asylums, hospitals, churches, halls, theatres, amphitheatres, and all other places in which people work, live or congregate from time to time for any purpose.

            "(h) The investigation of the cause, origin, and circumstances of fire."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            Section 1.405 of the uniform fire code, in turn, provides that:

            "CHIEF OR CHIEF OF THE FIRE DEPARTMENT shall mean the Chief Officer of the Fire Department serving the jurisdiction, or his authorized representative."

            In addition, § 1.408 of the uniform fire code defines "fire department" to mean:

            ". . . any regularly organized fire department, fire protection district or fire company regularly charged with the responsibility of providing fire protection to the jurisdiction."

            Lastly, the term "jurisdiction" is defined by § 1.412 of the code to mean:

            ". . . any state, county, city, town, or district or other political subdivision adopting this Code for use within its legal boundaries."

            In this case, it thus appears that it is initially the state itself which constitutes the jurisdiction ‑ for it was the state legislature which "adopted" the uniform fire code for use within its legal boundaries.  RCW 19.27.030(3),supra.  Secondarily, to the extent that they adopt permissible amendments to the code under RCW 19.27.040,supra, the various counties, cities and towns will also become "jurisdictions" insofar as that term is used in so much of § 1.201 of the code as makes the "Chief" and the "Fire Department" responsible for the administration and enforcement of both the code itself and of all related ordinances of the jurisdiction to which they provide fire protection.

            Yet under existing state laws there is no single agency responsible for the provision of fire protection to the entire state.  Likewise, although there is ordinarily such a single agency within each incorporated city or town ‑ the city fire department ‑ there is no such agency within the unincorporated areas of a county either.  The reason for this is that the responsibility for providing fire protection to such areas under our existing state statutes does not reside with the counties but, instead, is vested in special purpose taxing districts known as "fire protection districts."  See, Title 52 of the Revised Code of Washington, the first section of which (RCW 52.04.020) provides as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 6]]

            "Fire protection districts for the elimination of fire hazards and for the protection of life and property in territories outside of cities and towns are hereby authorized to be established as in this act provided."

            Because of this diversity of fire fighting agencies in the state it necessarily follows that the definition of "fire department" in § 1.408 of the code,supra, must be read as meaning each ". . . regularly organized fire department, fire protection district . . ." etc., which is charged with the responsibility of providing fire protection to some portion of the jurisdictional area of the entity adopting the code or any permissible amendments thereto ‑ in this case the state itself and, secondarily, each county, city or town later amending it.  Otherwise, at least in unincorporated areas, there would at present be no fire protection agencies which could be said to come within this definition.  From this it follows that when § 1.201 says the "Chief" and the "Fire Department" shall administer and enforce both the uniform fire code itself and the related ordinances of the jurisdiction, it means that the fire chief and department serving a given area will be responsible for administering and enforcing the code within that area ‑ along with any related ordinances of the city or county within which that fire department serves.

            What this all signifies, in our opinion, is that within the boundaries of an incorporated city or town, the "Chief" to whom reference is made in § 1.201,supra, is the chief of the fire department of that municipality.  Therefore, just as responsibility for the administration and enforcement of the various other components of the state building code is vested in city officials within those areas encompassed by incorporated cities or towns, so also is this true with respect to the uniform fire code.

            On the other hand, within such unincorporated areas as are served by fire protection districts established under RCW 52.04.020, supra, the "Chief" will be the chief of the fire department of that district.  Thus, instead of being a county responsibility as with most if not all other parts of the state building code, administration and enforcement of the uniform fire code within each such unincorporated area is initially and primarily the responsibility of the chief and fire department of the county fire protection district which serves that area.  Accordingly, our direct answer to your first question is this:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 7]]

            Within the unincorporated areas of a county which are served by a fire protection district, the uniform fire code requires the fire chief and department of that district to perform each of the administrative and enforcement functions listed in § 1.201, supra, together with such other functions as are required, under the heading of "Administration" in Division II of the code, to be performed by the "Fire Chief" or "Fire Department."

            In so concluding we recognize that in some counties there are areas not presently covered by either a fire protection district or a city or town.  In addition, we also acknowledge that the conclusion which we have reached is somewhat out of step with the spirit of one of the legislature's avowed purposes in enacting the state building code; i.e., as set forth in RCW 19.27.020(7),

            "To consolidate within each authorized enforcement jurisdiction, the administration and enforcement of building codes."

            And thirdly, we note the distinct practical problems in enforcement which may result from so much of § 1.206 of the uniform fire code as calls for the "Chief of Police" to assign available police officers to assist the "Fire Department" in enforcing the code ‑ since, under the definition appearing in § 1.405 of the code,1/ this apparently means the county sheriff or state patrol in all unincorporated areas.  See, RCW 36.28.010 and RCW 43.43.010.

            There is, however, and equally practical solution to this and each of the other problems above noted.  As we have seen, RCW 19.27.040 allows every county and city to amend any component of the state building code as it applies within its jurisdiction

            ". . . in all such respects as shall be not less than the minimum performance standards and objectives enumerated in RCW 19.27.020, . . ."

            In the exercise of this authority we have no doubt that a county could alter the manner in which the uniform fire code is administered within any or all of its unincorporated areas through the adoption of an amendment to the code designating some other official as the "Fire Chief" for the purposes of  [[Orig. Op. Page 8]] administering and enforcing its provisions.  For example, see Kitsap County Ordinance No. 58, a copy of which we are enclosing, in which at p. 5, the term "fire chief" is expressly redefined, by amendment, to mean the director of the county building department.2/

             Question (2):

            By its adoption of a set of amendments such as this, a county maywithdraw some, or even all, of the administration and enforcement functions under the uniform fire code from the various fire protection districts and assume them itself.  This, however, would be the converse of what is apparently contemplated by your second question which, repeated for ease of refere

            "Does a county have any authority to direct by resolution, ordinance, or otherwise that a fire protection district within its areas of jurisdiction shall provide for all or any part of the enforcement and administration of the Uniform Fire Code under Chapter 19.27 RCW?"

            In other words, in view of our answer to your first question  [[Orig. Op. Page 9]] this second inquiry in your letter is simply based upon an erroneous initial premise.  A county may not by ordinance direct the fire protection districts located within it to provide for the enforcement and administration of the uniform fire code ‑ but under the state act that will be the result because of action already taken by the legislature if no local modification is adopted by a given county.  The function of such local action, however, is to withdraw the subject duties and responsibilities from the fire protection districts ‑ and not to impose those duties and functions upon them.

            Question (3):

            It is believed that the foregoing discussion is basically responsive to the first two questions set forth in your letter.  In turn, our determination, in accordance with the foregoing, that fire protection districtsdo have definite and distinct responsibilities for the administration and enforcement of the uniform fire code within their respective jurisdictions in the absence of county action to the contrary appears to render your third question, which was predicated on a contrary answer to your first inquiry, moot.

            It is hoped that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General

PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Deputy Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/"CHIEF OF POLICE OR POLICE DEPARTMENT shall mean the chief law enforcement officer of the jurisdiction or his authorized representative."

2/In addition, this county amendment to the uniform fire code goes on, similarly, to spell out the following additional altered definitions:

            "(2) 'Fire department' shall mean the Building Department.

            "(3) 'Administrator' and 'executive body' shall mean the Kitsap County Board of County Commissioners.

            "(4) 'Clerk' shall mean the Kitsap County Auditor.

            "(5) 'Chief of police' shall mean the Kitsap County Sheriff.

            "(6) 'Fire prevention bureau' shall mean a division within the Building Department.

            "(7) 'Police department' shall mean the Kitsap County Sheriff's Office."

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