In last month's column, we discussed the funding of a thermal imaging program via budgetary set-asides. While this is often the best way to fund your program, it certainly fails to consider the fact that 70% of the fire departments in the U.S. are completely volunteer. Budgets for these departments many times depend simply on how many chickens can be sold at the annual chicken fry. With diesel fuel topping $4.39 per gallon, those chickens don't go as far as they used to.
Unfortunately, the burden of raising funds outside of a department's budget is no longer reserved only for the volunteers, as many combined and even career departments are being forced to pursue outside funding. City coffers simply are not large enough to cover the expense of properly operating a fire department. Municipal leaders must deal with the rising cost of employee salaries and benefits as well as decaying tax bases. For these reasons, fire departments must look beyond budgetary set-asides to find funding for thermal imagers.
Grants -- The fire service seems to have placed all of the proverbial eggs into one basket when it comes to grants. The Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program, administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), has become the primary and, for some departments the sole, source for grant funding. Every April, departments inevitably scramble to get their grant applications done and submitted. They then spend the rest of the year standing in line to see if they get funded. If rejected, they wait until the next April and start the process all over again. The world of grants is much larger than the AFG.
There are many grant programs under the umbrella of Homeland Security that fire departments are free to pursue, but typically do not. For instance, the Buffer Zone Protection Program (Google: BZPP) is a program designed to mitigate risks at pre-designated critical infrastructure sites. If you happen to have one of these facilities in your protection area, the government has already realized that enhancing response to these facilities is worthy of additional funding. The Rural Fire Assistance (Google: Rural Fire Assistance) may be a source of assistance for some of the more remote fire departments.
Private grant funds are also available through a number of resources and should not be overlooked. Wal-Mart offers several ways in which a local fire department could receive funding assistance (Google: Wal-Mart Community Grants). The Fireman's Fund Insurance Co. (FFIC) administers a local grant program called the Fireman's Heritage Fund (Google: Fireman's Fund Heritage) that can be accessed by nearly any department in the country.
- Fund raising -- Several years ago, when I was president of our International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) local, the union approached the fire chief with the concept of purchasing thermal imagers. I'll never forget his reaction: "We've been putting out fires in this department for over 100 years and have never needed a thermal imager before, so why do I need to spend that kind of money on one now?" The union, undeterred, decided to raise the funds ourselves and we did so by working the concession stand at the minor league baseball stadium to raise the necessary money. While the work was not easy, the result was exactly what we were after. We got our first thermal imagers.
There are many ways to go about the task of raising funds. I would like to offer a few suggestions, specifically to the issue of raising funds for thermal imaging. In the plethora of ideas for raising money, take into consideration what it is you are pursuing (thermal imaging) and to whom that enhanced capability pertains. One method not often explored is corporate sponsorship. If you have any high-risk fire hazard businesses (lumber yards, hazardous materials facilities, utilities) or high-risk occupancies (nursing homes, day-care centers) in your protection district, they may be willing to contribute to your purchase once they understand its benefits.
Another solution is offered by FFIC. The company produced a documentary, "Into The Fire." The movie has been aired several times on the History Channel and is a great look at the inside of the U.S. fire service. The best part is that FFIC offers several ways for you to make money using their movie. One option is to buy DVDs directly from FFIC and sell them at a premium, but the best option may be to hold a screening at any public venue and accept donations, charge an admission, and sell refreshments or copies of the DVD. Any funds generated are yours to keep and spend on your thermal imaging program. FFIC has developed a screening guide based on the Incident Command System that will ensure a successful event. You can contact the company at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Buying thermal imagers is an investment in firefighter safety. A thermal imager removes the blindfold put in place by thick smoke and restores sight to the firefighter on a mission to save a life. Whether pursuing budgetary set asides, grants or fund-raising options, you can rest assured that the return will be well worth the investment. After all, what is the value of just one life saved?
BRAD HARVEY is the Thermal Imaging Product Manager at Bullard. He is a veteran of public safety as a firefighter, police officer and paramedic and is certified through the Law Enforcement Thermographers' Association (LETA) as a thermal imaging instructor. Harvey has worked as a high-angle rescue instructor and is a certified rescue technician and fire instructor. If you have questions about thermal imaging, you may e-mail him at email@example.com.