Fire District versus Fire Department

What's the Difference?


Because the West Sayville-Oakdale Fire District and West Sayville Fire Department share a common goal of providing fire protection and emergency services to the residents of the Oakdale and West Sayville communities, many people may not understand the difference between the two.  Past articles in local news media have suggested that the residents of the fire district were upset with the West Sayville Fire Departmentbecause the department did not openly share information about development and construction plans for its two properties or, in some instances, the bond issues to fund them.  These representations have only furthered the misconceptions many hold about the responsibilities and authority that a fire department has over issues involving the spending of tax monies. The fire department neither collects nor expends tax money, as this is the sole function of the fire district.  The following explanation is offered to clarify the responsibilities of each entity.

The fire district is a political subdivision of the state that has a myriad of statutory responsibilities including the levying of taxes for the purpose of providing fire protection to the residents of a particular area, in this case the West Sayville-Oakdale Fire District. The fire district is administered by a board of five fire commissioners who are elected by the taxpayers residing within the district. Any registered voter, who has resided in the fire district for a month or more, can cast a vote in the elections held on the second Tuesday of each December. At this election one fire commissioner is elected to serve a five-year term. Thus, each year one fire commissioner's term is up and a vote is taken to fill that position for the next five years.

These fire commissioners answer directly to the taxpayers, not the fire department (though most of the fire department members are district residents and also have the right to be represented). The fire district holds public meetings twice a month, though it is rare that the public attends any these meetings. If you are a resident of the fire district you have the right to attend. The meeting days are published annually in the local papers in the legal section, or you can call the fire district and request the dates. If you have questions or comments regarding fire district matters they should be addressed to the Board of Fire Commissioners, as they are the ones that set policy and decide on matters such as improving properties, maintaining facilities, purchasing fire apparatus and firefighting equipment, preparing a budget and setting the tax rate, to name a few.

The fire department is the organization of loyal men and women that respond daily to fires and other emergencies within the district, as well to calls for assistance from neighboring fire departments. The Chief, elected each year by the fire department members, is in charge of the fire department, its members and their response to emergency situations. Neither the Chief nor any member of the fire department has any authority over the expenditures of the fire district. Even if the Chief wanted to erect ten cell phone towers, stop the construction of a building or purchase new fire trucks he would be powerless to do this. That is the difference most people are often unaware of. Of course the fire department does have a direct interest in the projects of the fire district and often offers its suggestions, but they are not necessarily included in the Board of Fire Commissioners' visions or plans. The fact is that every resident has the same rights, as the firefighters do, to voice their opinions about fire district business, as they are all taxpayers. There are times when the fire department and fire district differ in opinions. The fire commissioners should be making their decisions based on what is best for the taxpayers, and must take into consideration their budget and future plans. The Chief is elected to do what is best for the fire department, the safety of the residents and its members. Sometimes there is disagreement, but both entities do share a common goal.

Because the fire department cannot direct the fire district as to their decision making, it is not fair to hold it accountable for the decisions the fire district has made, or will make. Please direct your concerns about fire district matters to the Board of Fire Commissioners. You elect them, and they answer to you.

The Chief is always available to answer the questions of any fire district resident. Please feel free to contact him about any concerns you may have. If you are not sure if it is a fire district or fire department matter, the Chief will be happy to clarify the matter and direct you to the proper person if he cannot provide the answer.

The members of the fire department will always answer your call for help. They do appreciate your continued support.