How to fund training through grants and other options

Identifying the myriad options – including AFG and SAFER grants – to secure funding for your department’s unique training needs

Funders, government agencies and fire and EMS organizations alike understand that training is the key to providing effective and efficient services to their coverage area. Training delivers the critical knowledge that first responders need to operate in a safe environment. Further, training improves morale and allows for personal growth among members, and it fosters organizational stability.

But while many departments seem to have no problem seeking financial assistance to purchase new apparatus or equipment, they are often less inclined to apply for funds to properly train their officers and firefighters. In some cases, this is simply due to a lack of knowledge about the availability of such funds.

With that in mind, we’d like to share some information about the various sources of financial assistance for training activities. To simplify the search, we have separated potential funding opportunities by grant program, along with tips for filing a competitive application to that funder. Then we’ll look at some other ways to fund training.

When applying for training-focused grants, he training you request to have funded should align with your coverage and the services you provide.
When applying for training-focused grants, he training you request to have funded should align with your coverage and the services you provide. (Photo/Chris DelBello)

Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program

The AFG program provides training grants to meet the educational and performance requirements of fire departments and non-affiliated EMS personnel. AFG has indicated that the highest priority is given to training that provides instructor-led hands-on training.

The training you request should align with your coverage and the services you provide. If you are a small rural department with critical infrastructure that is typical of that type of location, then applying for Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) training is going to receive a low score from AFG. However, the same department applying for Firefighter I certification training will receive a higher score.

EMT training should align with the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which designs and specifies a National Standard Curriculum for EMT training and the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT), a private, central certifying entity whose primary purpose is to maintain a national standard. (NREMT also provides certification information for paramedics who relocate to another state.)

Keep in mind that applications for all simulators, tow vehicles, and all mobile or fixed fire/evolution props (e.g., burn trailers, forcible entry or rescue/smoke mazes) are located under the AFG equipment activity, not under the training activity.

Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grant (SAFER) program

If you are applying for SAFER grant funding to recruit and/ or retain volunteer firefighters, you should also consider their training needs as part of your overall application. Training is not an eligible cost under a SAFER Hiring of Firefighters application. However, under the Recruiting and Retention category, SAFER will fund numerous training activities:

  • New member basic training that is not covered under a department’s normal operating budget and is required by the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) to meet minimum firefighter certification (e.g., CPR, First Responder, EMT, Firefighter 1, Firefighter 2).
  • Leadership/career development training when used as a retention incentive that is not covered under a department’s normal operating budget. Courses must provide continuing education units (CEUs) or certificates of completion to be eligible.
  • Instructor/train-the-trainer training that is not covered under a department’s normal operating budget.
  • Reimbursement to members for lost wages, mileage/transportation, lodging and/or per diem while attending required basic training are also eligible. Reimbursement must be based either on the department’s established rate or the federal rate for travel.

Fire Prevention & Safety (FP&S) grants

Another source of funding for training programs is the FP&S grants offered annually through FEMA. The FP&S grant program has a smaller operating budget ($30-$35 million annually) than either AFG or SAFER. Activities under FP&S are also more limited in scope than the other two FEMA directed programs.

Because a major component of any fire prevention program is education, local or regional projects designed to educate or train personnel in the area of public education are eligible under this activity. An example of this would be training and certifying your fire prevention personnel to the level of Fire and Life Safety Educator.

Eligible application categories under FP&S grants also include Code Enforcement and Arson Investigation. Thus, financial support for conducting inspections, including code books, and/or code enforcement officer training assistance, are eligible activities. In a similar fashion, arson investigator training and arson prevention training are authorized activities.

Other sources of training funding

Due to the increased focus on training in the fire service, there are literally hundreds of training resources available to fire and EMS departments. For example, rural fire departments may want to approach the agency that operates the Volunteer Fire Assistance (VFA) or Rural Fire Assistance (RFA) in their state for training funds for wildland firefighter training. And the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) offers online courses and an annual training summit.

There are financial institutions, corporations and community foundations that provide funds for training. This year, CHEMTREC initiated a grant program to fund training and equipment for volunteer departments in communities of 25,000 or less. Corporations like VFIS offer online and field training to both firefighters and instructors. Provident Insurance Solutions also offers a similar program.

Some sources, like VFIS or Provident, provide training utilizing their own qualified instructors. Others, like CHEMTREC, make grant money available to fund training activities.

Your first choice may be to look at an agency that can provide the training directly to your personnel. This eliminates the need for you to apply for training funds, to search for an instructor and to find a certified training program.

If you are looking at a non-federal source to provide your training program, I suggest you first plan the type of event you want to hold. You need to develop a justification for the program as well as a budget. Some important items to consider include whether you have the facility to house the training or you need to secure one. What will the cost be for the training site? Do you have an in-house instructor or will you need to secure one? What costs will be associated with the instructor? Wil you provide refreshments on breaks and/or a luncheon for the training event. What will be the outcome of the training and how will you evaluate its effectiveness?

Plan early for training – and its funding

As always, my best advice is to start planning early. The federal grant programs are all offered annually – and have short application periods. Other sources of funding usually operate their budgets on a calendar year. Applying in January will stand a much better chance of getting funded than applying for funds in October when the budget is nearly depleted. Similarly, agencies that offer direct training should be contacted as early as possible to ensure that they have room in their budgets and an instructor who is available.

Editor’s Note: What programs have you used to fund training programs? Share your stories in the comments below or with

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