How These Two Cities Merged Fire Departments to Manage Growth AND Cut Costs

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As part of our efforts to promote professional development among city leaders, each week we’ll be featuring a new video focused on cities, community issues or local government. In this week’s edition, two mayors from Nebraska explain how a new inter-municipal fire department offers a quality of professional service that neither city could provide alone.

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Mayor David Black of Papillion and Mayor Douglas Kindig of La Vista co-present on how these growing communities merged fire departments in an effort to address their shared needs through inter-municipal collaboration.

What were the goals of the project?

La Vista, Nebraska, a growing suburb of Omaha, just reached 18,000 in population and decided it needed to replace its volunteer fire and EMS services with a professional department to accommodate increasing needs. The larger neighboring community of Papillion has maintained a professional fire department since the nineties, but in recent years also has acknowledged the need for its own expansion. Rather than maintaining two separate departments, the two cities proposed merging as a means to cut costs. Both the La Vista and Papillion city councils agreed to form one stronger department that would cover both cities, cut costs all around, and accommodate the needs of these growing Omaha suburbs.

How was the project executed?

Officials from La Vista, Papillion, and the Rural Papillion Fire Protection District approved the formal merger in the fall of 2013. On April 1st, 2014 the La Vista Volunteer Fire Department terminated its services and the newly enlarged Papillion Fire Department began protecting La Vista. With the help of a $2 million federal grant, Papillion hired 12 new fire fighters, 4 of whom served as volunteers in La Vista.  Months before the transition, Papillion fire fighters began conducting test missions throughout La Vista to acquaint themselves with the new territory.

The 2014-15 budget breakdown for the new merged district will involve the Rural Papillion Fire District financing the biggest portion at $2.7 million, while La Vista will pay about $1.6 million, and Papillion $1.7 million. The cities plan to sell equipment made redundant by the merger, and will use the revenue to further cut costs and purchase updated equipment. Papillion estimates that the average $100,000 home will pay $6 less a year in taxes slated for fire prevention.

What are the results to date?

The new unified fire service has a professional staff of 51 career firefighters working to provide emergency services to the cities of Papillion and La Vista. Papillion’s city council is in charge of the new four station department. In total, 57 paid employees work across three shifts to protect 60,000 people living within the newly created 68 square mile special district. The department is also able to guarantee Advanced Life Support at all times. Local residents have grown accustomed to seeing trucks marked “Papillion” and “La Vista” freely cross between the two communities. City officials confirm the new inter-municipal department offers a quality of professional service that neither city could provide alone.

Presented at the 2015 NLC Congress of Cities
Contact: Brooks Rainwater – Director, City Solutions and Applied Research, National League of Cities

Paul Konz headshotAbout the Author: Paul Konz is the Senior Editor at the National League of Cities.