By Jerry Brant
The 2010 Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program contains only a few small changes to its application guidelines and priorities. Normally this would not be headline-breaking news but there are drastic changes in the program's funding levels that will have overwhelming effects on departments across the nation.
In 2009, the AFG program received an appropriation of $565 million.That year the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) received over 22,000 applications for financial assistance from fire departments and EMS agencies. That figure was almost 1,000 higher than the number of applications received in 2008.
For 2010, the AFG appropriation has been cut to $390 million. This represents a 30 percent cut in funding. This decrease will raise the bar and make the application process even more competitive than it has been in the past. For example, under the Vehicle Acquisition Activity for fire departments, only $97.5 million will be available in 2010. This compares to $141 million for the same activity in 2009. In the past, the Vehicle Acquisition Activity has historically funded only about 12.5 percent of the requests it has received. For 2010 that number will become significantly smaller. As one DHS official put it "you will need almost a perfect score to get funded under this activity."
For EMS agencies, the news isn't any better. Under the Vehicle Acquisition Activity, only $1.95 million will be available nationwide in 2010. If your average award in 2010 for this activity is only $100,000, then only about 20 new vehicles will be awarded nationally.
Now that you know what the playing field will look like for 2010, let's take a look at the changes that will be in effect for this year. First, for fire departments, the application guidelines will be similar to last years. The only change will occur under the Modifications to Fire Stations activity. In the past, DHS had given a priority to applications for vehicle exhaust evacuation systems. For 2010, DHS has placed a priority on sprinkler systems and smoke and fire alarm notification systems. For EMS agencies, DHS will now require you to include your EMS billing to the budget category. The application will also ask you how many ambulances you currently have under the Characteristics II section of the application.
Since the application will feature only these few changes, hopefully it will give your department ample time to assemble the type of application that you will need to get funded this year.
For years I have advocated for the fire service to begin speaking in a single voice to the elected officials of our country about the condition of fire departments across the nation and their capabilities to handle emergency situations in the future. I beg you to take the time this year to speak with your senators and representatives — if not in person, you can still write to your congressional representative. Take the time to tell them firsthand the financial difficulties you are experiencing. Tell them about your manpower and staffing issues and talk with them about equipment and apparatus issues.
You can now see the effect that the funding cut will have on AFG for this year. We cannot continue to let this happen to such a worthwhile program. The future is in your hands.
If you want grant-writing help, e-mail Jerry at firstname.lastname@example.org.