The Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG) Program is set to open soon for its 20th year – is your department prepared? You’ve probably heard of some of the many grant preparation tips that you can follow as your department gets ready to apply for this award: Be sure you have all your department’s identification information and registration squared away, conduct needs assessments to determine what you want to apply for, and, of course, start early. Gathering cost estimates and compiling important data such as call volume, coverage area, census data and more will make the application process move along easily and efficiently.
Such preparation is essential when applying to any grant program, but the AFG program is unique and has grown and changed over its tenure. In its inaugural year, AFG had a single narrative, but today it is now split into seven separate project areas, with three application categories. It’s important to understand these categories and know the critical missteps to avoid in each.
Operations & Safety Applications
The first and most encompassing application type is the Operations and Safety application. These applications include equipment, PPE, modifications to facility, health and wellness, and training project areas. Each of these project areas will require your department to develop a compelling narrative backed by specifics and data – but there are several key differences to be aware of.
Equipment: FEMA does not want to read a laundry list of small or miscellaneous equipment needs. Find a way to connect your equipment needs to create a narrative, focusing on a project holistically rather than on individual pieces of equipment that are unrelated. For smaller equipment needs, your department might consider alternative funding opportunities, such as local grants or fundraisers.
PPE: The PPE project area includes turnout gear and SCBA. FEMA is not likely to offer $12,000 per SCBA – it’s critical to set prices in your grant application that are reflective of what FEMA is willing to pay. Also, remember you are only able to request a number of turnouts equal to the number of members in your department or a number of SCBA equal to the number of seated riding positions in your apparatus. As with other project areas, the age of your department’s existing PPE is critical. In other words, your application must first pass the “old” test.
Facility modifications: An AFG application for facility modifications cannot include changes to the structure’s footprint but can include installation costs for items such as a sprinkler system. One important note for modifications of facility applications is that they typically require an environmental and historic preservation (EHP) review. An EHP review simply provides FEMA with details on whether the specified modification has the potential to impact environmental resources or historic sites. EHP reviews should not act as a deterrent to applying for a grant in this area – these reviews are simple to complete and, depending on the modification, you may even be able to obtain a waiver for the review.
Health and wellness: The AFG health and wellness project area exists to help departments establish and maintain holistic wellness programs. To apply for Priority II items, such as fitness equipment, departments must already have or be in the process of implementing all five Priority I activities: initial medical exams, job-related immunizations, annual medical fitness evaluations, a behavioral health program and a cancer screening program.
Training: Because the main focus of the AFG program is ensuring departments comply with NFPA standards, make sure your training application explains how the training funds will help you achieve 100% compliance. This application can also work well in conjunction with an equipment application, explaining how the training is related to equipment you have or need and reflects your coverage area and call volume.
Clearly define your need, describe it with specific data and information relating to your community, and build a story around it.
Vehicle applications include any petition for grant funds relating to fire apparatus. Key information to note in a vehicle application includes the age of the apparatus, the age of the newest piece in the apparatus category and the coverage needs of the department. FEMA has recently added wildland-urban interface fires to the priority list for vehicle applications, meaning there may be greater opportunity for fire departments facing new or increasing challenges pertaining to wildfires.
Remember: AFG exists to fund basic needs of fire departments. To increase your chances of success, make sure your vehicle application matches the coverage needs of your area and the types of calls you respond to most. Tie your department’s needs very clearly to the type of apparatus you are seeking funding for.
The final type of AFG application is a regional application. These are applications undertaken by multiple departments within an area under an agreement in which they share the awarded funding for a common purpose. Funding for means of interdepartmental communication, such as regional radios, and similar equipment, training or other needs can be won through this application. Before deciding whether to participate in a regional application, it’s important to ask the question: Does our department fit in with this agreement? Once you’ve decided to participate, iron out the details of the agreement with the other departments (the MOUs) prior to the notice of funding from FEMA, as one department will need to serve as a single point of contact throughout the application and award process.
A successful AFG application begins with understanding and avoiding common mistakes in your project area. No matter the application your department pursues or the need you’re looking to fill, it’s critical to tell a story within your application. Clearly define your need, describe it with specific data and information relating to your community, and build your narrative around it.
To learn more about the 2021 AFG program, view Lexipol’s on-demand webinar, “AFG @ 20: Tips for Preparing a Successful Application in This Landmark Year.”