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How to Secure SAFER Funding for Retention and Recruitment

Editor’s note: The Department of Homeland Security has opened the application period for the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grants program Monday. Eligible program activities include 1.) Hiring of Firefighters and 2.) Recruitment and Retention of Volunteer Firefighters. Jerry’s previous article on Monday focused on the Hiring of Firefighters aspect of the program, while the following column focuses on Recruitment and Retention of Volunteer Firefighters.

By Jerry Brant

In 2008, 37.5 percent of the applications received by DHS for the SAFER grants program were for “Retention and Recruitment Activities” totaling slightly over $97 million. In the previous year, only 31.9 percent of the applications processed were for this category. The fact more departments are becoming aware of the program and its potential benefits means that your application must be as complete and concise as possible to succeed.

The Recruitment and Retention Activity of the SAFER grant program is open only to volunteer and combination departments. Career departments are not eligible under this specific category. Combination and volunteer departments may also submit an application under the “Hiring New Firefighters Activity” of SAFER. However, they must submit a separate application for this.

In addition, statewide or local organizations representing the interests of several volunteer and/or combination departments may request funding for Recruitment and Retention Activities as part of a regional application.

Under this category, fire departments may provide incentives to their members to reward their continued commitment to the fire service, as well as pay for recruiting resources to entice new members. Some possible initiatives under this activity include:

1. Insurance packages such as accidental death and dismemberment (AD&D), disability, health, dental, and life.

2. Reimbursement to the new member for attending required basic training. This can include compensation for lost wages, mileage, lodging, daycare and per diem expenses.

3. Marketing costs to recruit new volunteer members.

4. Salary and benefits for a recruitment and retention coordinator.

5. The cost of physical exams; however, they must be consistent with NFPA

6. Development and initiation of an explorer, cadet, and/or mentoring

7. The cost of a department staffing needs assessment.

8. Tuition assistance for higher education (including college tuition) and professional certifications (coursework or certifications in this category
should be above and beyond what the department typically funds for required minimum-staffing firefighter certification. Books and lab fees are
eligible, but computers are not.)

9. Length of service awards and other retirement benefits.

10. Reasonable costs for the department to administer the SAFER grant.

11. Costs associated with team building activities and motivational speakers.

This is just a short list of potential activities that are eligible under the program. The important objective for your department is to analyze why current members are not staying active and/or why new members are not joining. This barrier or barriers to recruiting or retaining members should become the focus of your application.

The key to getting your request funded is to develop a clear and defined program to address this need. Then, justify how the financial assistance you are requesting will be used to overcome your identified recruiting and/or retention issue. Your application should address these items in a complete but concise manner.

All applications will be reviewed by both an automated evaluation and a peer review panel. Scores will be based on how well the applicant addresses the established program priorities and how well the applicant is able to establish a correlation between their request and their identified needs.

Program priorities for this application period are:

Meeting Staffing Standards
The highest priority will be given to departments that have experienced a high level of turnover and whose staffing levels do not meet NFPA 1710 or 1720. If you are not familiar with this requirement, you can get more information at

Meeting OSHA Respiratory Protection Standards
To receive the highest consideration, your application must adequately address the OSHA 1910.134(g) standards that deal with procedures for interior firefighting, most notably the two in, two out rule.

Volunteer Membership
Priority will be given to applicants whose membership contains mostly volunteer members or departments that have a significant number of volunteer members.

Recruitment/Retention Plan
A higher score will be achieved by applicants who have a formal recruitment and retention plan that includes a project coordinator and marketing program. In addition, programs that include accident and/or injury insurance and lost wages for its firefighters will also receive a higher score.

Applicants will receive a higher score if their recruitment and retention program is designed to continue after the period of performance without federal assistance.

Call Volume and Population Served
Departments that respond to a higher number of calls and protect a larger population will receive a higher consideration.

Firefighter Health Measures
Applicants whose program includes an entry level physical exam that meets NFPA 1582 and show a commitment to have their firefighters receive immunizations will receive a higher score.

Applicants whose program will ensure that new recruited firefighters meet the minimum fire and EMS certification requirements of the state or locality within 24 months of joining will receive a higher consideration.

Regional Requests
Applications for Recruitment and Retention Activities that have a regional impact will receive a higher score than applications that benefit only one department.

In the past some volunteer departments have stayed away from the SAFER grant application process because they didn’t understand the program priorities and the possible benefits that could be derived by their department and its members. Hopefully this article has provided you with enough information to assemble your recruitment and retention program and to begin the application process. Remember applications must be received by DHS on or before 5:00pm Eastern Time on Friday, December 18. Good luck!

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.