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Executive Officer Leadership: Alternative Funding for the Fire Service

In today’s economic times, we’re still trying to make ends meet and stay within our budgets. This presents fire-rescue organizations, whether large or small, career, volunteer or combination, with fiscal challenges. Everyone is being asked to do more with less, and this has translated into budget cuts, layoffs and ambulance companies closing their doors.

Never has it been more critical for fire-rescue organizations to examine alternative funding streams that can supplement existing budgets to support essential services and purchase new technology.

Whether you’re a rookie to grants or a seasoned pro, success depends on understanding grant fundamentals and having a process to guide you. If you’re a rookie to grants, no need to panic; just about anyone can produce an award-winning grant application if you understand the process and follow the rules.

Now that I’ve sparked your interest in obtaining alternative funding, let me define what grants are.

Grants is a general term for the multitude of federal, state, county or local programs available to assist state and local governments, nonprofit social-service groups and community-based organizations. This assistance can take many forms, including direct or matching funding, loans, surplus government equipment and other resources.

Grants aren’t simply free money to all who apply. Each grant program has strict prerequisites and eligibility requirements that must be satisfied. In addition, the grant requests submitted more often than not outweigh a grant’s available funds.

With this in mind, recognize that a significant amount of research and planning will be needed to submit a strong application. While the overall strength and completeness of your application will increase your chance of success, sometimes the strongest of applications fail to get funded. Disheartening as this may be, remember that persistence can and will pay off.

Will grants benefit your organization? Though many fire-rescue organizations choose not to pursue grant funding, grants have helped bridge the gap between a budget shortfall and a successfully funded project, such as obtaining NFPA-compliant PPE, new apparatus, basic or advanced life-support equipment and additional staff.

Just remember to research the grant carefully to find out if it is fully funded, matching funds are required or it’s a loan.

There are five steps for grant success that everyone should follow.

Identify and Prioritize Projects

Identify and prioritize projects that would benefit from grant funding. When considering potential projects, give priority to those that will produce a quantifiable, operational benefit. Be prepared to fully explain how your proposed project will enhance your department’s operations, and predict any potential negative impact to your department’s operations if not funded.

Once you identify a project, determine its cost and prepare a provisional budget. Include all costs associated with the project’s implementation: equipment, accessories and additional training, if required.

Search for Available Grants

Some people use FireGrantsHelp.com to locate available grants. In this search engine, you can search by category (federal, state or corporate) or by state. Search results will provide a brief synopsis as well as application period dates, contact information, links to the grant home page and more.

Research the Grant

You must research the opportunity to fully comprehend all eligibility requirements, local cash match (if required), etc. The primary reason grant applications are denied is failure to follow the directions.

When looking at the guidance, go through it several times, looking for items that are must-do’s, should-do’s and could-do’s. Pay the closet attention to the must-do’s; these are the items that can cause immediate elimination if not followed precisely. They may include stipulations that your department must be a nonprofit or municipal-based fire department or a nonaffiliated EMS agency, that you must have a DUNS number and that you must comply with NIMS and NFIRS requirements.

Write Your Narrative

This is the most dreaded portion of the grant process, but again, preparation is the key. Long before a grant’s application period nears, gather information about where grant funds could be best used.

Another key to building a strong case is to explain how the new equipment, training or vehicle will enhance your department’s response capability. It also helps to explain how a lack of funding may negatively affect your department’s operations.

Prepare your narrative in advance, allowing time for others to proofread your draft, which is critical since you can’t make changes after submittal. Your narrative should be clear and concise, thoroughly explaining your department’s needs and how funding will enhance its operations.

Always avoid preformatted grant narrative templates; firsthand knowledge of your department’s operations will enable you to write a more-persuasive narrative.

Lastly, always write your narrative in the required format if one is detailed.

Prepare and Submit Your Application

This is the time to verify and reverify that you’ve followed the instructions carefully, all requested information is accurate and you’ve had your narrative thoroughly proofread.

Always use online applications when possible. Many grants offer the ability to apply online, which can dramatically simplify the application process. Once your online application is submitted, an email confirmation receipt will follow. No need to worry about your application packet getting lost in the mail.

Will Grant Funds Be Available in the New Administration?

As we move into a new presidential administration, the questions being asked among many fire-rescue agencies is whether grants funds will be available, and if so, how much?

At the time this went to press, Congress has yet to pass legislation appropriating final funding for DHS grant program. It passed a continuing resolution in December that would just keep the federal government open until late April 2017.

According to lobbyists’ reports, House and Senate bills are proposing to keep DHS grant programs the same as the FY 2016 enacted budget, but the president’s FY 2017 request shows some drastic cuts to some programs.

We’re going have to wait and see what the future holds for the fire service.


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