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What is a Fire Protection District?

 Even though most persons appointed or elected to serve as trustees of a fire protection district will likely have some understanding of what a fire protection district is, it is useful to start a discussion of the orginization of the fire protection district by briefly reviewing the state constitutional and legislative provisons which authorize and govern the creation of fire protection districts as units of government.

       Under Article VII of the Illinois Constitution of 1970, fire protection districts are "...special districts...designated as units of local government by law which governmental subjects...". (III.Const. 1970, Article VII, Section 1) Section 8 of Article VII goes on to specify that "...special districts, and units, designated by law as units of local government, which exercise limited governmental subjects shall have only powers granted by law". Thus, in the simplest terms, fire protection districts are special units of local government with a certain particular and limited purpose having specific express powers granted to them by the Illinois General Assembly. It is important for all trustees of fire protection districts to understand and appreciate this definition and the limitation it imposes. As will be discussed subsequently, the powers of the fire protection district are several, extending to fire suppression and prevention, rescue, and emerency ambulance service, but they are not unlimited (this legal concept, referred to as "Dillion's Rule", will be discussed later). Fire protection districts are not "general units of local government" such as cities, villiages, and counties which have multiple and broader governmental functions and authorities. Unlike many other states which rely almost completely on such general units of local government to provide public services at the local level, Illinois historically has developed many different types of specialized units of local government, each with a particular and limited governmental function, and each of which came into being under state law to address a particular need for a governemntal service or activity. To some extent, Illinois is unique in having more types and numbers local governments than an other state. This aspect of Illinois law in recent years has provoked significant controversy at the state and local level with many calls for the elimination or forced consolidation of varius types of local government, including fire protection districts.

     The specific authority for fire protection districts under Illilnois law is found in the "Illinois Fire Protection District Act" first enacted in 1927 and amended by the state legislature many times since its initial adoption. Thoughout the Trustee Handbook, references will be made frequently to this particular law since its provisions supply the fundamental legal requirements which govern the formation and operation of fire protection districts. The Fire Protection District Act is found at Title 70, Act 705 of the Illilnois Complied Statutes (70 ILCS 705/0.01 et seq.).

      Section 1 of the Fire Protection District Act sets out the legislative purpose for the creation of fire protection districts and state that fire protection districts are:

      municipal corporations known as fire protection districts...that...may engage in the acquisition,                                        establishment, maintenance and operation of fire stations, facilities, vehicles, apparatus and equipment for              the prevention and control of fire therein and the underwater recovery of drowning victims, and provide as            nearly adequate protection from fire for lives and property within districts as possible and regulate the                     prevention and control of fire therein... (70 ILCS 705/1)

While later provisions in the Act grant additional specific powers and authorities which will be considered in more detail later, it is the foregoing language which most nearly summarizes what fire protection districts are intened to be and to do as units of local government. (Readers should note that while the term "municipal corporations" is used in the foregoing statutory language, fire protection districts are not municipalities (cities or villages) which are governed by a separate statute, the Illinois Municipal Code [65 ILCS 5/1-1-1 et seq.].)

      As a trustee of a fire protection district, it is essential to understand both the breadth and limits of the district's purpose and authority. Not having that understanding can lead a board of trustees to take actions which exceed the authority of the district and could jeopardize the legal standing of the district, its finanical underpinnings, or result in a legal liability. On the other hand, it is also important to remember that as distinct units of local government, fire protection districts are generally not subject to the jurisdiction or supervision of any other unit local governement, (other than the authority exercised by some other units government,  such as counties or townships, to appoint members of the board of trustees). Fire protection districts are independent units of government deriving their being and authority directly from state law and they exercise sole governmental authority within the scope of their governmental powers and the geographical limits of their jurisdictional boundaries. 


Reference; A Handbook for Trustees of Illinois Fire Protection Districts 2021 Edition

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