The FY2020 Assistance to Firefighter’s Grant (AFG) program is slated to open in the fall, and fire and EMS departments across the country are gearing up for this golden opportunity. Given the sizeable appropriation of $319.5 million – and the immense strain on department budgets due to the COVID-19 pandemic – the AFG program represents the single greatest opportunity for fire/EMS departments to secure funding for critical operations and apparatus projects. However, with thousands of departments competing for this limited funding, only about a quarter of AFG applications are ultimately successful. This article offers a few simple tips from a successful grant writer to improve your chances of winning an award.
Familiarize Yourself with the AFG Notice of Funding Opportunity
The Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) is an essential resource for applicants interested in the AFG program. This document is updated annually and provides a wealth of information regarding applicant eligibility, FEMA’s funding priorities (as established by a criteria development panel consisting of 9 major fire service organizations), cost-sharing requirements, procurement integrity rules, evaluation criteria, and more. Departments that understand FEMA’s objectives and the rules of the AFG program are more likely to prepare successful applications. An application will undoubtedly score higher when your department’s needs are closely aligned with FEMA’s priorities.
Match your Department’s Needs with Program Priorities
Officers and administrators should regularly assess the needs of the department to determine which projects will create the greatest improvements in firefighter/EMT safety or operational effectiveness. Take a walk around the station and look for equipment or apparatus that is particularly unsafe, obsolete, non-compliant with NFPA standards or OSHA regulations, old, broken, out-of-service, etc.
Departments should determine which of their highest priority projects – identified through the internal needs assessment – have also been identified as a high priority project in the AFG NOFO. Remember – what worked for another department may not work for your department because your needs or FEMA’s priorities may not be the same. Also note that the priorities within the NOFO change slightly from year to year, so be sure to review FEMA’s guidance carefully.
Collect Relevant Information
An AFG application requires a substantial amount of information about the department, the community served by the department, the equipment being replaced and/or purchased, and more. Department personnel involved in the grant process should begin collecting information well in advance of the start date to avoid a last minute scramble. Some of the information that can be collected ahead of time includes the department’s call volume, population served, square mileage of district, target hazards, the precise age of equipment to be replaced, and cost estimates for new equipment. In addition, applicants to AFG must have a valid DUNS number, active registration in the SAM.gov system, and be registered on FEMA’s new grant portal, Grant Outcomes (FEMA GO).
Prepare a Comprehensive and Compelling Narrative
The narrative portion of the AFG application is your department’s best opportunity to communicate critical details about your department, community, and your need for funding. Keep in mind that the narrative is reviewed by a panel of your peers (i.e., firefighters or EMTs from across the country) and compared against thousands of other narratives. Make sure your narrative uniquely conveys the importance of your department, the magnitude of the problem you’ve identified, your proposed solution, expected improvements in personnel safety and operational effectiveness, how the benefits outweigh the costs, and why your department needs financial assistance. Copying another narrative and changing the name won’t uniquely convey your department’s issues.
Consider Professional Help
Considering all the work involved in planning and preparing a successful application, it may be advisable to hire a professional grant writer to assist your department. The up-front investment in a grant writer can save you lots of time and hassle while delivering a huge financial payoff. The AFG program is such an important funding source to help departments enhance their operational capabilities, and the application is only available for a few weeks each year, so be sure to take full advantage of this year’s opportunity.
About Firehouse Grants
Firehouse Grants specializes in preparing grant applications for fire departments, EMS departments, and other public safety agencies. We have substantial experience in successfully obtaining funds from FEMA Fire Act programs (including AFG, SAFER, and FP&S), the Port Security Grant Program, Community Development Block Grants, corporate grants, and foundation grants (including Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation and FM Global). Our success is built upon our in-depth knowledge of the grant programs, our expertise in technical writing, and our understanding of fire and emergency services.
Firehouse Grants is led by David Schwartz who is an experienced grant writer specializing in the emergency services industry. David has been a volunteer firefighter in the suburbs of Philadelphia since 2001. The rest of our staff are also firefighters and we are all committed to serving you and your community. Learn more about Firehouse Grants at www.firehousegrants.com or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.