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AFG 2021: Detailing changes to this year’s application

FEMA has made significant updates to criteria and priorities for PPE and other key categories


Fire safety grants fund critically needed resources to equip and train emergency personnel, enhance efficiencies and support community resilience.

It’s that time of year: The Assistance to Firefighters Grant program application opens on Monday, Nov. 8, and closes on Jan. 21 at 5 p.m. ET.

There are some major changes to this year’s program. The most notable is the fact that the grant program has $414 million to distribute among successful applicants. That is the highest amount available through AFG in the past decade. The increase is the result of additional funding from the American Rescue Plan. Next year, the amount will revert to approximately $345 million.

So, if you have been procrastinating on applying for AFG funding over the past few years, now is the time for you to submit your application.

Major change in PPE criteria

After the close of the 2020 AFG grant, I penned the article “AFG priority list: It’s time to address its shortcomings,” a critical look at the criteria FEMA was using to categorize applications for both turnout gear and SCBA. Specifically, for the previous two applications, AFG was only giving a high priority to applicants whose firefighters had no PPE. If you had a set of gear, even if it was 18 years old and falling apart, you were only a medium priority in FEMA’s eyes.

It seems FEMA heard the voice of the fire service, and for 2021 has issued new PPE replacement criteria. Here is the new version:

Inclusion of pre-scoring emphasis for this Activity to ensure replacing out of service and non-compliant PPE is of high priority.

The following PPE priorities and definitions have been updated:

  1. Increase supply for new hire/existing firefighters that do not have one set of turnout gear (PPE) or allocated seated position (SCBA). This includes replacing out-of-service PPE and SCBA as High Priority.
  2. Replace in-service/in-use/damaged/unsafe/unrepairable PPE or SCBA to meet current standard as High Priority.
  3. Replace in-service/in-use/expired/noncompliant PPE or SCBA to current standard as High Priority.
  4. Upgrade technology to current standard as Low Priority.

In addition, the applicant’s call volume will have a lesser impact on scoring and, therefore, the final funding decision – a win for the smaller, rural departments that have had an uphill battle getting their PPE applications approved because their call volume didn’t stack up to some of the larger departments.

Other significant changes to the AFG application

There are several other changes of note in this year’s AFG application.

Period of Performance: For departments that receive grant funding, the period of performance has been extended to two years. The period was previously one year, but supply chain issues have made it difficult for grantees to meet this benchmark, and FEMA was deluged with requests for grant extensions.

Micro Grants: FEMA is prioritizing Micro Grants – the option to apply for a project with a cumulative federal funding of $50,000 or less for eligible Operations and Safety activities. For each of the career, combination and volunteer departments categories, FEMA will work to fund no less than 25% of the allocation for Micro Grants. Note: Applicants that select Micro Grants under Operations and Safety as a funding opportunity choice may still apply for a Vehicle Acquisition or a Regional project.

Equipment Activity: Within the Equipment Activity of AFG, the following equipment priorities and definitions have been updated:

  1. Obtain equipment to achieve minimum operational and deployment standards for existing missions as High Priority.
  2. Replace non-compliant equipment to current standard as High Priority.
  3. Obtain equipment for new mission as Medium Priority.
  4. Upgrade technology to current standard as Low Priority.
  5. Respirator decontamination systems have been added as Medium Priority item.

Facility Installations: Under Modifications to Facility Activity, new first-time installation of exhaust, sprinkler, carbon monoxide and/or smoke/fire detection systems are now listed as High Priority, while replacement or update/upgrade to existing systems is considered a low priority.

Final thoughts

Start your application today. There are no priorities given to the last application submitted on the last day. Please remember to have a current SAM registration and DUNS number. Solicit realistic cost estimates for your project, and don’t forget to allow enough time for someone else to review your project before your hit the submit button.

Good luck!

Additional resources

Jerry Brant is a senior grant consultant and grant writer with FireGrantsHelp and EMSGrantsHelp. He has 46 years of experience as a volunteer firefighter in west-central Pennsylvania. He is a life member of the Hope Fire Company of Northern Cambria, where he served as chief for 15 years. He is an active member of the Patton Fire Company 1 and serves as safety officer. Brant graduated from Saint Francis University with a bachelor’s degree in political science. In 2003, he was awarded a James A Johnson Fellowship by the FannieMae Foundation for his accomplishments in community development, and in 2019, he was honored as with the Leroy C Focht Sr. Memorial Award from the Central District Volunteer Fireman’s Association. He has successfully written more than $70 million in grant applications. Brant can be reached via email.

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