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History   |   Fire Protection in Undeveloped Areas   |   Fuels
The Existing Home   |   Fire Safety Checkist   |   As A Last Resort

Fire Protection in Undeveloped Areas

In most forest and wildland areas of Florida, there are three types of fire protection agencies. This first is the city fire department, either paid or volunteer. These departments are funded by taxes paid by property owners inside the city limits. They have no obligation to protect property outside their jurisdiction. In the absence of a mutual-aid pact with another agency, they may be prohibited from responding to fire calls outside the city limits.

The second fire protection agencies are the forestry departments. The wildland fire protection agencies have no responsibility for structure fires and are not equipped or trained to control them. Their primary function is to prevent and extinguish forest and other wildland fires. They are financed only for wildland protection.

Standards of attack time and water pumping capabilities of these forestry agencies are much different from those of the city fire departments. It may take them a half-hour or more to respond to a fire call. Forestry agencies provide an adequate level of protection for the wildlands, but may not be able to provide dependable protection for homes located there. All too often these agencies arrive at a forest home fire only to cool down the coals of a lost home and to prevent the fire from spreading to surrounding wildlands.

Between these two protection systems are rural fire protection districts. Those close to cities are nearly identical to neighboring city fire departments where there is sufficient improved property and an adequate tax base.

Rural fire districts away from population centers, however, have about the same response time as forest fire protection agencies. Many fires occur in these more remote districts. The main difference is that rural districts provide full-time protection and can prevent fires from spreading from house to house. They are better equipped, trained and funded to control structural fires.

Generally, fire protection improves as population density increases. Early in the development of an area, the only protection available will likely be provided by a forestry agency. As development increases and as people settle into their residences for year-round living, they will seek year-round fire protection. Local residents will form volunteer rural fire protection districts.

At this point there is a dual responsibility. The forestry agency is responsible for protecting the forests and other wildlands. The rural volunteer fire department is responsible for protecting homes and other buildings.

Eventually, more year-round residences are established. Land and property values increase. Rural fire protection districts increase their resources, upgrade their equipment and occasionally add paid firefighters.

During this time, forestry agencies usually provide protection only for intermingled patches of brush and forest lands; and the rural fire protection districts provide most of the fire protection for more populated areas. Finally, as the development continues, the forestry agencies may contract with the rural fire protection district to perform the total protection job, so only one agency is providing all of the fire protection within the area.

Before buying any wildland property, second home or permanent residence in a forested area, know the level of fire protection. While none of the previous examples are bad by themselves, it is important that you recognize the level of protection you will receive. Besides providing you with an understanding of existing fire protection, knowing the level of protection will help you determine your structural fire insurance cost.