The application period for the Fire Act Grants will be opening soon, this will be for the FY2107 money. I don’t have a date for when the application periods will open, but now is the time (maybe delayed due to all the natural disasters) for locals and their fire/EMS departments to start considering their request. It takes many hours to prepare a grant application that has a good chance of success. The process is very competitive, and only about 25% of the applications even have a chance at success. It’s critical to start early before the application period opens.
FIRE ACT GRANTS
There are three separate grants that make up the Fire Act Grants, Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG), Fire Prevention & Safety (FP&S), and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER). All three applications periods will be open separately, one after another with the AFG usually going first. The application period is usually between four and six weeks and may be extended should FEMA choose to do so. At least one of the grants will probably be open during the Christmas/New Years holiday season. Working on grant applications over the holiday season compounds time issues.
The need for additional funding isn’t something that sneaks up on departments, many departments are dealing with funding deficits now, and they aren’t going to get better as we move into FY2018. Departments should be able to identify possible projects for purchasing and hiring. It’s important to our locals that these projects be brought forward now instead of waiting for the official announcement.
It is very important to have a grant strategy and to identify all requests before the first application period opens. No single grant will fund all of the requirements for a specific project. For example, to hire new fire fighters, SAFER provides the wages, AFG provides the physicals, PPE, and training. It costs the department a lot more money to hire if they hadn’t thought to ask for the necessities to put that new employee to work from AFG. It also makes more sense when crafting and describing the need and the project.
THE UNION’S ROLE
Except for the FP&S grant, applications are controlled by the fire department and require the chief’s approval. While the union doesn’t play a direct role, we can make a huge difference by offing assistance identifying projects, and providing direct technical assistance. Many things we try to negotiate into contracts or add to operating guidelines can be paid for by grant money. Of course grant many can’t be used to pay for projects completed before the money is awarded, but it can pay for health and safety, health and wellness, equipment and training projects in addition to SAFER paying for hiring new fire fighters. It is important for our leaders to have a seat at the table when this money is talked about and decisions made.
We can also provide technical assistance in a variety of ways but time and funding are limited, all requests need to be forwarded to (firstname.lastname@example.org) as soon as possible so that assistance can be as effective as possible.
Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG)
This grant covers the bulk of the department’s needs. Money will be allocated for vehicles, equipment, training and health and wellness projects. Does your department offer a mental health/substance abuse program? If not, it can be funded by AFG. Need new turnouts or SCBA? AFG can fund it. Training? Again AFG can fund it. Training programs the IAFF offers can be funded from AFG awards, but the department has to plan and ask for the money.
Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER)
Does your department meet NFPA 1710? Are you having to close or brown out a station? SAFER can fund projects to improve staffing and compliance with NFPA 1710. There is now a match requirement for the department, but SAFER still represents a huge discount when adding staff. Some departments shy away from using SAFER money for hiring since the position would be dependent on grant money. The reality is that all of our jobs are dependent on some type of funding and when that funding source is jeopardized. I doubt any of us are losing a lot of sleep over funding problems. When they occur, we do our best to protect our members and the system. The same applies to employees hired through grant funds. They will be employed for the three years of the described in the award contract. At the end of that time, the department can find another resource, lay them off, or apply again, but that’s three years the department has improved staffing.
Fire Prevention & Safety (FP&S)
Does your department investigate all fires? Does the department have a fire inspection program? What about safety programs for fire fighters and the public? All of those needs can be funded through this grant or AFG. This is the smallest and the most competitive of the three grants and the only one where a Local can directly apply.