The Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (AFG) and its sister programs (SAFER and Fire Prevention and Safety) allow fire departments and EMS organizations the opportunity to apply for grants utilizing a regional approach for their project. Eligible regional activities under AFG are Vehicle Acquisition, Training, Equipment, Wellness and Fitness, and PPE activities.
Benefits of Regional AFG Grant Applications
As departments try to determine whether a regional approach to their Assistance for Firefighters Grant application is the best route to take, it helps to start by focusing on what benefits your department and region will experience should the grant be approved. Questions to consider include:
- Will a regional application result in a cost savings for the departments involved? To determine this, contact the vendor and ask for the price for a single item. Then inquire if there are price breaks for buying in bulk and at what points do these breaks occur. For example, you should get a better price if you are purchasing 100 SCBA than if you were just buying 20 for your department. Cost savings can go beyond just price of the product or service—there may be savings in utility costs, transportation, or building rental and maintenance. For example, if you’re proposing a shared training simulator, how much will your departments save in not having to send members to external training?
- Will the proposed project support regional efficiency and resilience? The partners in your regional application should be departments you run with on mutual or automatic aid calls. Continuing the SCBA example, responding with the same type of SCBA allows you to operate more efficiently on an incident. If one unit doesn’t have enough SCBA on a particular alarm, they can use SCBA from another unit without having to be worried about unfamiliar equipment. When departments have the same SCBA. training exercises are also more efficient because you don’t have to spend unnecessary time familiarizing every firefighter with multiple types of SCBA.
- Does your project benefit two or more departments in more than one jurisdiction? Two departments in the same municipality don’t meet the definition of a regional applicant A county fire department, even if it has dozens of stations, does not meet the definition of a regional applicant. You must bring another county or municipality into the fold.
A county fire department, even if it has dozens of stations, does not meet the definition of a regional applicant.
Do We Have to Purchase the Same Thing?
One of the questions I get asked the most about regional AFG grant applications is, “Do all departments in a regional application have to buy the same thing?” The short answer is yes. The objectives of the AFG program are laid out in the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO). Those objectives are to provide critically needed resources that equip and train emergency personnel to recognized standards, enhance operational efficiencies, foster interoperability and support community resilience. It becomes difficult to foster interoperability and enhance operational efficiencies if departments are purchasing different types of equipment. FEMA made it easier for regional partners to understand when on page 69 of the 2020 AFG Notice of Funding Opportunity it clearly states, “To align with the stated program objective of fostering interoperability, departments and agencies party to regional applications must use the same vendor.”
What Is an MOU?
The host and all partnering departments involved in a regional AFG grant application must develop and execute a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that details the host and individual partner responsibilities, the distribution of grant assets, the duties of all participants and their EIN numbers. If desired the MOU may contain other specifics related to the project. The MOU must be in place at the time the grant is submitted. If the project is funded by FEMA, the MOU survives the application and is used as the guidance document for the participating departments. If the grant application is rejected, the MOU ceases to be in force.
All partnering departments must be in good standing and must be compliant with AFG Program requirements, including being current with past grants, closeouts and other reporting requirements. The host department should verify that all participating agencies meet these criteria before the application is submitted.
Be in the Know
All partnering departments should read and review the regional application before it is submitted. Similarly, participating departments should read and agree with everything contained in the MOU before they sign it. It is too late to make changes to either one of these documents once the grant is awarded. Far too often, participating departments don’t realize until after the award is made that the operation, administration and procurement connected to the grant is the sole responsibility of the host.