From August 2011 – Wake County Fire Service Leadership Overview / FAQ

This was originally posted to the old blog in August 2011 and is being reprinted here, for easier of newer readers to find. 

As a public service to our readers, Mike Legeros, A. C. Rich, and Lee Price present an overview of fire service leadership in Wake County. The information is delivered in the format of an FAQ. First, though, let’s identify the speakers. Mike Legeros is the historian, author, and photographer who runs this blog. A. C. Rich is Fire Chief of the Stony Hill Fire Department, in addition to a career firefighter in Raleigh. Lee Price is Asst. Chief of the Wake-New Hope Fire Department, in addition to a career firefighter in Rolesville. Below is their best attempt to explain the many heads of the hydra that we call “local fire service leadership.” We’ll start with the fire commission, and work our way outward.

Q: What is the Wake County Fire Commission?

A: It is a group of people appointed by the Wake County Board of Commissioners, and empowered as a group to make recommendations to the County Commissioners, about aspects of the fire service within the control of the county. This web site lists the expected duties of the Fire Commission:

Q: Who are the members of the Fire Commission?

A: Conceptually, they consist of: One County Commissioner. Four primary regional representatives of the county-funded fire departments: one for north region, one for south region, etc. Four alternate regional representatives, for above. The president of the Wake County Firefighter’s Association. One representative from the town of Wendell. Five citizens, also called “consumers.” The specific members are listed on a web site ( However, that page is out of date at this time.

Q: How can you get appointed to the Fire Commission?

A: Fire Commission members are appointed in two ways: Citizens/consumers are appointed by a vote of the County Commissioners. They express their interest through an application form ( Primary and alternate regional representatives are recommended by their respective regions, and submitted directly to the Wake County Clerk of Court via the Wake County Fire Marshal.

Q: Do the Commissioners factor additional information into their appointment of citizen/consumer members, beyond just the application form? Should I get to know my Commissioner, if I want to apply?

A: It certainly couldn’t hurt! The County Commissioners are people, too. They make decisions based on their knowledge and experience. The more they know of you, and have experienced you, the more that can be applied to any decisions regarding your application for membership, should they face that decision.

Q: Nice, safe answer there.

A: Thank you.

Q: You said that the Fire Commission makes recommendations to the County Commissioners? I thought the Fire Commission was the governing body for the fire service in Wake County? 

A: Negative. The Fire Commission makes recommendations only, and only within a set of parameters: Budget – Both operating budgets and capital expenses. Operating budgets are the monies appropriated each fiscal year to countyfunded fire departments. Capital expenses are one-time costs, for larger purposes or projects, such as building fire stations. Staffing – County-funded firefighter positions, and the issues therein, ranging from salary and benefits to allocation of the positions. Apparatus – County-funded vehicles, both small and large, and the issues therein. Equipment – County-funded equipment, such as PPE. Facilities – County-funded facilities, as well as county-funded improvements to private-owned facilities. Contracts – The language of the document used in fire service contracts between Wake County, and both public and private-owned fire departments.

Q: Are the recommendations of the Fire Commission always followed?

A: Not necessarily. The Wake County Board of Commissioners has the authority to ignore the recommendation of the Fire Commission, and make alternate decisions on facilities, apparatus, staffing, etc. The recommendation of the Fire Commission is also reviewed by the Wake County Manager, for his approval and recommendation, just like any other department in Wake County government.

Q: How often does the Fire Commission meet?

A: They meet on the third Thursday of every other month. The location is the Wake County EMS Training Center, which is located in the lower level of the Wake County Commons Building at 4001 Carya Drive in Raleigh. The meetings start at 7:00 p.m. They last anywhere between one and three hours. The very short meetings and very long meetings are rare.

Q: Are the meetings public? Can I attend? Can I stand up and speak?

A: Fire Commission meetings are open to the public. Citizens are welcome to attend. The attendees are typically the Fire Commission members, the Fire Marshal, Wake County Fire Services staff members, other county and local municipal officials, and officers and firefighters from the county-funded fire departments. Plus, some guy in a Hawaiian shirt.

Q: Why do you keep saying “county-funded fire departments” instead of just “county fire departments?”

A: We’re trying to be accurate. The Wake County Fire Commission has limited governance over fire departments in Wake County that receive funding from Wake County. Those departments include some municipal-run fire departments (Fuquay-Varina, Zebulon, etc.), some municipally based (but privately operated) fire departments (Garner, Wendell, etc.), and some privately operated “rural” fire departments (Hopkins, Stony Hill, etc.). The label “county-funded fire departments” seems the most accurate, but excuse our shorthand if we subsequently say just “county fire departments.”

Q: What about the Fire Commission subcommittee meetings? Are they also public? What about all the other governing bodies?

A: Yes, the Fire Commission subcommittee meetings are also public meetings. So are the Board of Director’s meetings of privately operated fire departments, as are the town council and city council meetings of municipalities.

Q: How can I get a copy of those meeting schedules?

A: Contact the Wake County Fire Services office. Here’s a web page with contact information:

Q: Can I get copies of those meeting minutes?

A: Minutes of the regular meetings are posted to a web site, which is also out of date: Subcommittee minutes are not posted on that web site. Thus, for both, contact the Wake County Fire Services office. Here’s a web page with contact information:

Q: Do the County Commissioners have control over the fire services in Wake County?

A: In part, yes. Wake County government has control over some, but not all aspects of fire service delivery in the county. What are the exceptions? For example, if you live within a municipality, they call those shots. That is, they call those shots but within greater regulatory structures. For example, there are state requirements that all fire departments must follow. If you live within an unincorporated area that’s outside of a municipality, the county has greater control over the fire service that you receive. But not absolute control. Wake County does not operate any fire departments. Instead, it contracts with private- or public-operated (municipal) fire departments.

Q: But because the county contracts with those departments, can the county call the shots in those cases?

A: Yes and no. The Wake County fire service contract is the governing element for the fire department’s relationship with the county. Unless it is specified in the contract, and not withstanding local, state, and federal laws, departments are bound to the performance standards indicated in that document. That’s why we have some differences in the way the fire departments in Wake County operate. Each fire department has its own set of policies, procedures, and vision on how fire services are operated in their district. There are differences in the way it’s done in New Hope versus Stony Hill, for example. And outside of what’s stated in the contract, neither the county, nor the Fire Commission, plays any role in those operational decisions.

Q: So there’s no Wake County Fire Chief?

A: Correct.

Q: Then who leads the fire service in Wake County?

A: Leadership is shared or distributed among several individuals and groups. There’s the county Fire Services office, led by the Wake County Fire Marshal. They provide input to and work with the Wake County Fire Commission. Both groups provide input to the Wake County Board of Commissioners and the County Manager.

Q: Plus the individual fire departments, right?

A: Correct. Private fire departments–which are non-profit corporations– are led by a Board of Directors, which appoints the Fire Chief and perhaps other positions. It varies from department to department, and board to board. Public fire departments are those run by municipalities. They’re led by a Fire Chief (or similar position) and his command staff, who also reports and receives guidance from a city or town council or commissioners, and a city or town manager.

Q: It’s very complicated! Why isn’t it easier to understand?

A: Because it is very complicated.

Q: What’s the role of the county Fire Marshal and the Fire Services office?

A: Their duties include emergency response activities, code enforcement, fire prevention, training, and administrative assistance to the Fire Commission. The staff and their roles are detailed on this web page:

Q: How many different kinds of fire service contracts are there in Wake County?

A: There’s the contract that Wake County uses with private and public fire departments to provide protection to unincorporated areas. Then there are contracts used by municipalities to supplement the fire protection services. For example, there are places within the city limits of Raleigh that require fire protection at a level of service greater than the Raleigh Fire Department can presently provide. Thus, a second fire department is contracted, to provide protection to those areas. For example, in a newly annexed area, the city often contracts with a county fire department, until such time as a new city fire station has opened and is protecting that area.

Q: Doesn’t a municipality have to contract with a county fire department if they annex that territory?

A: Yes, there’s a state law that requires the annexed fire department to be contracted or receive contract income for a number of years after the annexation.

Q: How many municipalities are there in Wake County, by the way? And how many public versus private fire departments?

A: Here’s the list.

  • Apex – Municipal, but also contracted by county for “rural district.”
  • Bay Leaf – Private, contracted by county.
  • Cary – Municipal, and recently contracted by country to protect “rural district” formerly covered by Western Wake Station 2, now closed.
  • Durham Highway – Private, contracted by county.
  • Eastern Wake – Private, contracted by county.
  • Fairview – Private, contracted by county.
  • Falls – Private, contracted by county. Presently merging with Wake Forest FD.
  • Fuquay-Varina – Municipal, but also contracted by county for “rural district.”
  • Garner – Private, contracted by county.
  • Holly Springs – Municipal, but also contracted by county for “rural district.”
  • Hopkins – Private, contracted by county.
  • Knightdale – Municipal.
  • Morrisville – Municipal, but also contracted by county for “rural district.”
  • Raleigh – Municipal.
  • RDU Airport – Private. Operated by Airport Authority, which is kinda like a municipality.
  • Rolesville – Private, contracted by county.
  • Stony Hill – Private, contracted by county.
  • Swift Creek – Private, contracted by county.
  • Wake Forest – Combination of municipal and private. Special case. Also contracted by county for “rural district.”
  • Wake-New Hope – Private, contracted by county.
  • Wendell – Private, contracted by county. Also a special case, where all residents, both inside the town limits and in the rural district, are taxed in a manner different than the county-wide fire tax.
  • Western Wake – Private, contracted by county.
  • Zebulon – Municipal, but also contracted by county for “rural district.”

Q: Are you guys available for speaking engagements, weddings, or bar mitzvahs?

A: Check with our agents. 

Comments to Original Posting

Wow this is the most informative posting and I must have missed it before. I have a couple questions that I hope can get answered to best “answerers” ability

1) Is there a benefit to having one said FD, a country based system, for Wake County much like EMS where all the rules and standards are the same and everyone knows what everyone has? Is that model possible? Is it fiscally feasible? Is it fiscally cheaper than the 13 or so FD’s we have and all their chiefs and pay?

2) How many firefighters, approx, does wake county have?

3) How much duplication of services does Wake County have, for say both “FD A” and “FD B” have a boat paid for by the taxpayers when they could both as quickly respond to the same area?

4) Will we see more mergers in the near future that are not county forced like the Wake Forest and Falls merger? Will we will see more county forced mergers, can the county force a merger?

5) Are we doing what is best for the citizens of wake county? Could we do it better? If we are not doing what is best how are we working to improve what we are doing to make it better? If we are doing it the best way to go GUYS!!

Thank you, really hope to get some answers on these questions, it is very interesting topic to me and I think this post you guys did was one of your best. Please post further things like this, A LOT learned here by me

Have a great day and god bless

 ncems – 09/13/11 – 19:19

Thanks for reading, NCEMS. Glad that you found our information informative. The questions that you pose might be tricky to answer, as they require a more subjective perspective. Well, except, number two, the number of firefighters in the county. We’ll see if someone has that answer. And perhaps number three, which might require more prognostication than anything else. (Paid 50 cents for that word, thank you very much.) The other questions are going to require some opinions. Because we might have different perspectives on what is a benefit, what is a duplication, what is “doing best.” Myself, I favor discussions along the lines of “right-sized” resources. What does a right-sized fire department or fire services structure look like. But even that— right-sized— is subject to interpretation.

Legeros – 09/14/11 – 09:42

Mike Thank you, I truly did find this very informative, and yes a couple of those questions are opinion based which does make it harder to answer. Though, I def like to hear all sides of the coin. “Right-sized”, I like that. Sometimes that can mean we need to increase protection, but it can also mean we could decrease in certain areas allowing us the ability to increase where needs to be. HAHA, a little hard to read that one I know

ncems – 09/14/11 – 12:34

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