The FY2021 grant programs administered by FEMA represent some of the best opportunities for fire & EMS departments to secure grant funding. Both the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) programs will be funded at $360 million each this year, which represents a slight increase over last year. Yet, with thousands of departments desperately competing for funding, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only a select few (about one-quarter) applications will be awarded. With that level of competition, it’s critical for departments to use grant strategies that will maximize their chance of success with emergency services grants.
There’s Power in Numbers (of Departments)
One strategy for increasing your chance of success is to submit a “regional” application with neighboring departments. In a regional application, multiple departments submit an application for a single project, with one of the departments acting as the “host.” While the host department actually submits the application and is responsible for handling vendor payments, reporting requirements, etc., all of the participating departments benefit from a regional award. All participating departments must sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which typically outlines the responsibilities of participating departments, the allocation of equipment or services to be purchased, and the responsibility of each participant to contribute to the required cost share.
Know the Benefits of Regional vs. Individual Applications
Participating in a regional AFG grant or SAFER grant project often makes more sense than several smaller departments each submitting their own individual application. Regional applications benefit because they are scored based on the combined call volume and population served among all participating departments. Good regional applications improve interoperability and maximize cost effectiveness. For example, there are several operational and safety benefits if multiple departments within a region all use the same SCBA. Similarly, it’s far more efficient for multiple departments in one county to join in on a group purchase of new radios instead of each department purchasing individually. Aside from an SCBA grant or radio grant, other successful regional equipment projects include PPE, extrication tools, hose, and more. In addition, a SAFER application for recruitment marketing might not make sense for a small department to undertake individually, but could be a better project if pursued with neighboring fire companies in the same media market.
As with all grant applications, make sure to select a project that is a high-priority for all of the participating departments and the program itself. FEMA specifically categorizes different projects as high, medium, or low-priority, so check the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) before deciding. You can find examples of high priority projects at Firehouse Grants.
Typically, priority levels are set the same for both individual and regional applicants (though there are some exceptions and restrictions). For equipment projects, there are other considerations: even if it makes operational sense for you and your neighbors to have the same type of equipment, this alone may not be enough of a justification. FEMA will also consider the age of the equipment being replaced, the call volume and population served by the participating departments, and other factors.
There’s Lots to Do – Start Early
While a regional application often makes sense, this approach can significantly increase the complexity of the application process. At a minimum, you’ll need to:
- guarantee that all participants are compliant with AFG program requirements, including being current with past grants, closeouts, and other reporting requirements
- ensure that all participants meet the criteria for the high priority project
- gather comprehensive data inputs from every department (including basic organization information, NFIRS call volume reports, current budgets, equipment inventories, apparatus fleet and seated riding positions, etc.)
- execute an MOU between all participating departments
- answer all questions in the application based on the aggregate of all participating departments
- prepare the narrative sections (organization description, financial need, project description, cost/benefit, and statement of effect) to reflect the aggregate of all departments
- agree in advance that all equipment will be purchased from one vendor
Watch Out for Common Mistakes
When considering a regional application, there are a few considerations to keep in mind. First, the required cost share will be based on the total population served by all departments. For example, even if the host applicant serves fewer than 20,000 people but the total population served exceeds 20,000, the required cost share will be 10% instead of 5%. Similarly, the funding limitations are based on the total population. In addition, as of the FY2020 NOFO, regional awardees must purchase the awarded equipment from the same vendor. Lastly, while individual departments are allowed to submit their own applications, host applicants should ensure that no individual department’s application duplicates the requested activity in a regional application. If duplicate requests are submitted, all applications (including the regional application) may be disqualified.
It’s Complicated, But We Can Help
With multiple departments to coordinate, lots of information to gather, and unique application rules, it’s best to start preparing as early as possible. Working with a fire grant writer to help manage a regional project is another good strategy to increase your chance of success and ensure the application process goes smoothly. Firehouse Grants has many years of experience advising fire departments and helping to prepare successful regional grant applications, so reach out to us today for a free assessment.