Q: Who is in charge of my fire department?
During fire emergencies, it's the chief of each department. The chief and several assistants are elected, usually to one-year terms, by the volunteers.
Q: What about after the fire has been put out?
That depends on where you live.
One-hundred-twenty-two of Long Island's 179 fire departments are administered by fire districts, independent units of state government whose unsalaried commissioners are directly elected by their residents. They approve officers, set policies, mete out discipline and collect property taxes. Three Nassau departments are administered by water and fire districts, which operate similarly to fire districts.
Thirty-one departments are part of villages and two are city fire departments. Though mostly volunteer, these are run like other village and city departments.
Twenty fire departments are independent, not-for-profit corporations that sell service under contract to towns and villages. These corporations own their firehouses and trucks. Their boards are elected by their volunteer members.
And one Fire Island fire department, Point O'Woods, is run by a private association of property owners.
Q: Who owns the trucks and the buildings?
Usually villages, cities and fire districts own all the buildings and equipment used by their volunteer fire departments for emergency response, while incorporated fire departments own their own buildings and equipment. But there are a few exceptions in older departments where fire companies themselves own their buildings.
Q: What does my contribution to the fire department's annual fundraiser pay for?
Extras, mostly. State law provides for districts to raise taxes covering just about everything needed for public safety purposes, including the buildings, equipment, insurance and training costs, as well as annual dinners and refreshments served after meetings and emergencies. Funds donated to the department or one of its companies may pay for things like embroidered department jackets, outings, parties and other recreational activities; supplemental insurance, pension or death benefits beyond what the district provides; and extra training or travel at the chief's discretion.
Q: Do fire departments have any other sources of money besides property taxes and donations?
New York State also delivers money to benefit firefighters in the form of a 2 percent tax on certain fire insurance policies. About $10.2 million was distributed to Long Island fire departments and chartered benevolent associations last year.