Speak up: The importance of advocating for federal fire & EMS funding

Fire service leaders, now is your chance to help improve FEMA’s AFG and SAFER grant programs

Even though it has been decades since I was a child, I can still hear my mother’s voice saying, “Jerry, be careful what you ask for because it just might happen.”

For the past few years, I have been advocating that FEMA allow more participation from fire and EMS agencies in the development of its grant guidelines and applications. Now, it seems like a window of opportunity has opened, underscoring the need for fire service professionals to advocate for federal fire and EMS funding.

On Feb. 28, FEMA emailed its stakeholders, detailing a new effort to get feedback and suggestions from Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) applicants. In addition to highlighting how users could log technical issues, the email noted: “A high value is placed on system users, like you, and FEMA is working collaboratively to identify enhancements through user feedback sessions, working groups, user research interviews, and outreach sessions. If you are interested in being involved with these planning efforts, please email FEMAGO@fema.dhs.gov.”

FEMA’s AFG and SAFER programs provide valuable federal fire and EMS funding. To make them work effectively, fire service leaders must get involved.
FEMA’s AFG and SAFER programs provide valuable federal fire and EMS funding. To make them work effectively, fire service leaders must get involved. (Photo/Getty Images)

To the casual observer, this might not seem like a big deal. But to those of us familiar with FEMA’s grant process, this is indeed a big change that creates the need for fire service professionals to act.

A Chance to Improve

FEMA’s AFG and SAFER programs are a lifeline for fire departments. For years, these programs have provided vital federal fire and EMS funding.

They also have flaws that limit their effectiveness. In a previous article, I reviewed proposed legislation from Senator Bernie Sanders that would nearly triple funding for recruitment and retention efforts via AFG and SAFER. While I welcome this proposal, I believe it needs to be accompanied by improvements in FEMA’s grant guidelines and grant application to impact the departments that need it the most.

Two of my suggested improvements were:

  • Before making application changes, ask the members of the fire service to review the proposed application and provide feedback for improvement.
  • Ask for volunteers to file dummy applications months before the actual application period to test functionality and technical elements. Every year there is some technical problem with the application. Why not do a beta test long before it opens to work out the kinks?

FEMA’s email, sent just weeks after I pushed for these changes, opens the door for applicants to be part of the development efforts for AFG and SAFER. FEMA is asking users to contact the Help Desk (1-877-585-3242) immediately if they experience system issues. This will allow FEMA to address these issues more efficiently and determine if they are a systemwide problem or an individual applicant issue.

FEMA is also asking for volunteers to be part of feedback sessions, working groups or just to participate in interviews to help improve their system development efforts. This is our opportunity to be part of the change needed to make AFG and SAFER more user-friendly and more accessible to all departments.

This Is Your Opportunity

FEMA is giving us the chance to vent our frustrations and to assist in developing a new application system for their programs. Please don’t let this opportunity pass us by. Show FEMA that we value AFG and SAFER and that we’re committed to making it more effective. Advocacy can work. If enough of us get involved, we can effect change.

So speak up, on behalf of your department and your constituents. It’s easy to get started—just email FEMAGO@fema.dhs.gov and ask to get involved.

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