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AFG 2011 lessons learned

Just as we would with fireground operations, we should also meet with our grant preparation committee and discuss this year's AFG application while it is still fresh in our minds

Another AFG application period has come and gone, you pressed the submit button, printed a copy of your application, placed it in a folder and put it into your filing cabinet.

Now there is nothing more you can do except to anxiously await an email from FEMA that announces the fate of your application, right? Not completely.

Just as we should return to the station after a call and conduct a critique of our fireground operations, we should also meet with our grant preparation committee and discuss this year's AFG application while it is still fresh in our minds.

New format
The 2011 AFG application featured a new format. This revised document stymied a number of departments when they first opened the application and began to input information.

In fact, I have heard of departments that were so frazzled by this year's application that they didn't bother to apply. Did this happen at your station?

Whether it did or not, now is the time to meet with anyone involved in the grant process in your department and review the progression of your 2011 AFG application and to make plans for grant writing in 2012.

Planning is the first ingredient in developing a competitive application, whether it is for AFG, SAFER or a private foundation.

What drives your application should be your department's annual assessment. Through this process, your organization should look at all aspects of its operations and determine what specific items need to be addressed and how this is going to occur.

For example, are there new developments that are planned for your coverage area? Do you have the resources to answer these new responsibilities or should this be the basis of a request for financial assistance to a grant maker?

Is your budget plagued by increasing maintenance and repair bills for your 30-year-old tanker? Do you have firefighters that are sustaining injuries or being turned away from training because of their gear?

These and other similar subjects are items that should be discussed as you meet to do your annual assessment.

What will make this process easier and in turn make your grant writing easier is good record keeping. I know, no one wants to hear this but it is essential that you document as much information on your calls, your training activities, and your apparatus maintenance as possible.

It makes it so much easier six months from now when you are writing your 2012 AFG to refer to a report or a memo, rather than go running around your station asking if anybody remembers what repairs had to be made to the engine because it failed at the scene of some call. By the way what call was it does anybody remember and was that the same call we took one of the members to the hospital because his arm was burnt through his turnout gear? Does any of this sound familiar?

Coverage area description
As local sources are dwindling and operations costs keep rising, securing outside financial assistance has become a critical function of today's fire department. Just as we wouldn't fight fire in a rubber coat and boots that come up over our knees, we can't ignore the need for good record keeping and planning if we are going to competitive in seeking grant assistance.

Another item that is crucial to your application is your ability to adequately discuss your department financial situation and your coverage area's economic condition.

These are statistics that you should have at your fingertips, ready to plug into your application. It is surprising the number of applicants that I speak with that don't know what their department's annual budget is, how much revenue they bring in each year, how much it costs to operate their department and if any of these amounts have been increasing or decreasing and if so by what percentage.

These are all important ingredients in a competitive application that convinces a review panel that you need money for your project.

Similarly, you need to be able to detail your coverage area's economic condition to show that not only has your department been unable to raise funds for this project, but the money isn't there to raise. To do this you need facts and amounts — you can't simply state, "we can't raise money because we have a lot of poor people in our area."

Again, the more information you can supply the more competitive your application will be.

NFPA compliance questions
Finally, this year's AFG application contained additional questions concerning your department's compliance with NFPA 1001 Firefighter I and II than past applications did. This caused a number of departments to go into training shock.

Again, departments that have good record keeping practices were able to answer this question easily. Those that don't were counting on their fingers, making calls to see who was certified and in some cases throwing in the towel saying, "they will never fund us because we are not 100 percent Firefighter II certified."

First, the last statement isn't true, if your department wasn't at 100 percent, you could either ask for training funds or you could detail your training plans in the text box provided in the application.

For those of you that had this question pose a problem for you, I have news for you — it isn't going to go away.

If you haven't noticed, the focus on training has been increasing over the past three AFG applications and my prediction is that in years to come the focus on training will become even greater.

Again, if this was an area of concern for you as you assembled your 2011 AFG application, your department needs to meet and discuss how you are going to deal with this in the future.

Training funds are an eligible expenditure under AFG, but once again you need to know how many of your active firefighters are currently certified.

What training is needed to get you to 100 percent compliance? How can this training be provided? How much will it cost?

These are all issues that your department needs to discuss now because before you know it, you will be staring at a 2012 AFG application on your computer screen.

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