Why fire departments are skipping grants

Intimidated by the revised grant application, many needy fire departments are not going after available money; here's how to quell those fears

Once again this year the number of applications FEMA received for the AFG program has decreased. This is the fourth year in a row that this has occurred.

Ask fire and EMS agencies why they aren't applying and you basically get three different answers: they don't have time to put the application together, the application is too complicated and they don't have money for the match. If you notice, none of the reasons listed was "because our department has everything it needs."

If we look at the decline in applications, it almost mirrors the last major makeover of the AFG application itself. Four years ago AFG went from a single, long narrative to four separate narratives.

There are now narratives for critical infrastructure and training. There are also additional questions about your department and its coverage area.

Why is this happening? Because reviewers weren't getting the information they need to effectively score an application.

Probing questions
In the day of the long, single narrative, applicants tended to discuss their project at length. They gave very little detail on how it would benefit the area served, why they couldn't fund this project locally or how it would positively impact their response capabilities.

In an attempt to garner this information, FEMA broke the long narrative into four shorter narratives. Also, by doing this, FEMA thought it would be helping the departments by forcing them to discuss these specific topics.

What happened was that departments panicked and said the application had changed and it was entirely too difficult. The number of applications dropped. In subsequent years, FEMA added a narrative on training.

In the past there always had been a question in the application's characteristics section asking departments what percentage of their firefighters were trained to firefighter I and II. If this number was not 100 percent they had to discuss their training plans in their narrative.

Very few departments put anything in their narratives, so once again in an attempt to get this information, AFG added an additional narrative in the characteristics section asking them to detail training plans if fell below 100 percent compliance with NFPA 1001.

Again, this was an attempt by FEMA to get the type of information the reviewers needed, and instead departments saw it as making the application more difficult.

What's protected?
Additionally, there had always been a question asking if a department protected critical infrastructure in their state. The word "state" threw some departments off because they thought they had to provide protection to a facility that belong to their state government.

Also, departments touched very lightly in their narratives about the type of infrastructure that their departments covered. Again, FEMA asked for a narrative on critical infrastructure and departments panicked.

Remember the review panel scoring an application knows absolutely nothing about the department, the coverage area, the financial outlook or the department's needs. The reason for the narratives and questions inside the application is to provide the review panel with this information so they can make a proper judgment. 

If you are on one of the departments that have thrown in the towel on AFG applications, I ask you to reconsider. The idea for these additional questions and narratives has not been to deter application but to provide equitable information to the reviewers.

At this point in the year, you have at least four months before the next AFG application period opens. Use this time to get started on your application.

Inside the AFG website, FEMA has amassed volumes of information that can assist you in assembling a competitive application. This includes videos on how to prepare a competitive application. It includes a cost-share calculator, get ready guides, self-evaluation sheets and an application checklist.

If you have not filed an AFG application because you thought it was too difficult, check out the information FEA has available to assist you.

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