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SAFER grant funding can assist with staffing, deployment capabilities

Program is open to career, volunteer and combination departments

On Monday, Jan. 30, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) opened the application period for the SAFER grant program. SAFER grants provide financial assistance to help fire departments increase frontline firefighters, rehire firefighters who have been laid off, retain firefighters facing imminent layoffs or fill positions that were vacated through attrition. The program is open to career, volunteer and combination departments.

The SAFER grant offers two funding activities to assist departments with staffing and deployment capabilities to adequately respond to emergency situations.

One funding activity is the Hiring of Firefighters and the other is the Recruiting and Retention of Volunteer Firefighters.

The Recruiting and Retention of Volunteer Firefighters activity is open to volunteer and combination departments only. This activity does not require a local match for the FEMA grant.

The Hiring of Firefighters is open to career, volunteer and combination departments. A major change from last year’s application is that the third-year requirement for departments to retain SAFER-hired firefighters is no longer a necessity.

Under the Hiring of Firefighters activity, FEMA has placed the highest priority on the rehiring of laid-off firefighters. To be eligible to meet this priority, applicants will have to show that any position they wish to fill has been the object of a layoff between Jan. 1, 2008, and the application deadline (Feb. 24, 2012).

The second priority under this activity is the retention of firefighters facing possible layoffs. To be eligible for this category, applicants must indicate that their department has firefighters who have been issued a formal layoff notice, including a specific date for the layoff action, prior to the start of the application period, and who face imminent layoff within 90 days of the close of the application period. The application period closes on Feb. 24, 2012, and therefore the layoffs must become effective on or before May 24, 2012.

The third priority for this funding year is the filling of positions that have become vacant through attrition. Eligible vacancies for funding under the attrition category must have occurred between Jan. 1, 2008, and the start of the application period.

The fourth priority is the hiring of firefighters to fill new positions. The Hiring of Firefighter Activity funding provides fire departments with money to pay 100 percent of the salaries and benefits for SAFER-hired firefighters (exclusive of overtime). Grantees must maintain staffing at the level that existed at the time of the award as well as the SAFER-funded staffing for the two-year commitment. Laying off firefighters during the commitment will result in termination of the grant award.

Under the Recruiting and Retention of Firefighters Activity, volunteer and combination departments may apply for funding to recruit and /or retain firefighters to create a net increase in the number of trained, certified and competent firefighters capable of safely responding to emergencies within the grantee’s geographic response.

SAFER funding will pay for incentives that the applicant has identified as tools to increase recruiting and retention activities. Some of the incentives funded in the past include length of service awards, tuition assistance, lost wage reimbursement and health and disability insurance.

The key to writing a competitive application under this activity is to identify the barriers that are currently hindering your department in recruiting new firefighters and retaining existing ones. Then develop a list of incentives that you feel will help address these barriers, and explain in your application narrative how your incentive program will operate.

The basic purpose of this grant — whether we are talking about career, combination or volunteer departments — is to increase the number of trained firefighters that the applicant will have available to answer alarms. To determine the applicant's current situation in meeting this benchmark for the SAFER application, FEMA has adopted the use of NFPA Standard 1720 for career departments and NFPA Standard 1720 for volunteer departments. Your application needs to contain your department’s current situation in not meeting the respective standard as the first evidence that your application should receive serious consideration from FEMA.

To assist you in developing a highly competitive application, FEMA has prepared a number of resources, including program guidance documents, get-ready guides and self-evaluation sheets. All of these materials are available on the SAFER website.

I suggest that you begin by reading the program guidance to determine your eligibility and the items you will need to compile your application. As always, we at FireGrantsHelp are also available to assist in answering your questions. Remember that the application period closes Feb. 24. Good luck!

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