SAFER grant 2020: FEMA details eligibility, priorities and activities

Know the program priorities, application details, and eligibility requirements for both hiring and recruitment and retention activities


FEMA opened the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant application on Feb. 8, and the application will remain open until March 12 at 5 p.m.

This is the first time in the history of the federal grant program that all three applications – SAFER, Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG) and the Fire Prevention and Safety grant – will be open at the same time.

FEMA is keenly aware that fire and EMS agencies across the nation are faced with critical staffing and financial issues. As such, the 2020 SAFER grant application has no cost share requirement and no position cost limit.

This is the first time in the history of the federal grant program that all three applications – SAFER, Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG) and the Fire Prevention and Safety grant – will be open at the same time.
This is the first time in the history of the federal grant program that all three applications – SAFER, Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG) and the Fire Prevention and Safety grant – will be open at the same time. (Photo/Getty Images)

SAFER: 2 eligible activities

SAFER funds can be utilized for recruitment and retention activities by volunteer and combination departments, and for hiring activities by career, combination and volunteer departments. Specifically, the recruitment and retention component of the grant supports applications to assist fire departments with the recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters who are involved with or trained in the operations of firefighting and emergency response. The hiring component of the grant supports applications to hire new additional firefighters or to change the status of part-time or paid-on-call firefighters to full-time firefighters, rehire laid-off firefighters, or to retain firefighters facing layoff.

SAFER priorities and application details

FEMA prioritizes bringing departments into compliance with either NFPA 1710: Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments or its comparable standard for volunteer fire departments, NFPA 1720, in the most cost-effective manner.

The SAFER application asks applicants general questions about the NFPA standard they are attempting to meet, their current ability to meet that standard, and how they will meet the standard if awarded grant funds. Applications resulting in the largest percentage increases in compliance with the relevant section of NFPA 1710 or NFPA 1720 receive higher pre-scores than applications resulting in smaller percentage increases in compliance.

It is important to review your fire reports for the past year to determine if your department is meeting your applicable standard for staffing and response time. If not, what percentage of the time is your department failing to meet standard? This is the benchmark for funding under the SAFER program. If your department is meeting the 1710 or 1720 standard, then you do not qualify for SAFER funding.

Let’s now dig deeper into the specifics of the recruitment and retention activities and the hiring activities.

Recruitment and retention activities and priorities

Grants awarded under the recruitment and retention activity are intended to create a net increase in the number of trained, certified and competent firefighters capable of safely responding to emergencies within the recipient’s response area.

The SAFER application places a priority on programs that:

  • Include a Recruiting and Retention Coordinator
  • Indicate that newly recruited firefighters will undergo an entry-level physical and receive immunizations, and who indicate they will provide annual medical exams
  • Train firefighters to Firefighter II and EMT or to just Firefighter II
  • Are comprised of mostly volunteer members, or have a significant number of volunteer firefighters
  • Have a high rate of turnover and that have staffing levels significantly below the ideal staffing level required to comply with NFPA standards 1710 or 1720
  • Provide data based on a Needs Assessment
  • Have, or will establish, fire service partnerships as part of their project

Hiring activities and eligibility

SAFER awards hiring activity grants directly to volunteer, combination and career fire departments to help increase their cadre of frontline firefighters by providing financial assistance in three categories:

  • Rehire: Rehiring firefighters who were laid-off within the two years prior to the start of the application period;
  • Retain: Retaining firefighters facing imminent layoff within 120 days of the close of the application period; or
  • Hire: Hire new, additional firefighters.

As for hiring eligibility, only firefighters hired (New Hire category) or rehired (Rehire category) after the SAFER program grant offer of award (except if awarded under the Retention category) are eligible for grant funding. Additional details:

  • Only full-time positions are eligible for funding in all three categories. A full-time position is one position that is funded for at least 2,080 hours per year (e.g., 40 hours per week, 52 weeks per year).
  • SAFER program grant funds will only pay for operational positions, in all three categories, whose primary assignment (more than 50% of time) is on a fire suppression vehicle, regardless of collateral duties.
  • Volunteer and mostly volunteer fire departments may also hire individuals to fill officer-level positions (e.g., chief, fire inspector, training officer, safety officer) in addition to their primary operational assignment.
  • Eligible positions for funding under the Rehire category must have been laid off in the two years prior to the start of the application period (Feb. 8, 2021). Copies of the official, signed and issued layoff notices will be required at the time of application.
  • Firefighters who have been issued a formal layoff notice, which includes a specific date for the layoff action, prior to the start of the application period, and those who face imminent layoff – within 120 days of the close of the application period – are eligible for SAFER program funding under the Retention category. As the application period closes on (March 12, 2021), the layoffs must become effective on or before (July 10, 2021). Copies of the official, signed and issued layoff notices will be required at the time of application.
  • Eligible positions under the Retention category must be employees of the department at the time the application is submitted. Note: If a retention position becomes vacant after the application is submitted, departments must fill the vacancy with a new hire to maintain the operational staffing level.
  • A layoff notice that is not executed within the specified terms will be considered void unless an additional notice is provided within 14 days of the original action date will not qualify for funding in the Rehire or Retention categories. Applicants who do not meet these parameters must apply under the New Hire category.
  • Any layoff action not executed in accordance with the terms of the official layoff notice or that does not meet the above requirements will not qualify for funding in the Rehire or Retention categories. Applicants who do not meet these parameters must apply under the New Hire category.

Final thoughts

The SAFER grant is a very intricate application process. I can’t stress enough the importance of reading the Notice of Funding Opportunities (NOFO) and other related documents to gain a working knowledge of this program.

As with other FEMA programs, please make sure you have a current System for Award Management (SAM) registration and an active Data Universal Number System (DUNS) number.

Finally, please start early and have someone review your application before it is submitted.

Good luck to all applicants!

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