Fire Service Grants: Are We There Yet?

What separates the competitive from the non-competitive applications is the why behind the what.

The Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Peer Reviewers have access to codes if they need them so they can verify your claims as to what is or isn't in compliance. But even if you have all of this down because you've been tracking your gear from the day it arrived, meaning everyone it's been assigned to, when it was cleaned or repaired, this just means you are going to be more competitive than someone that can't explain their operational Point A. That doesn't mean we're getting funded, it just means we will have a better chance of being funded. The difference is always in the minor details.

Along those lines our operational assessment is going to give us numerous Point A's for each aspect of our operations. For example:

  • Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) - do we have enough? Do we have Rapid Intervention (RIT) connections? Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) protection? Voice Amps?
  • Apparatus - do we have enough pump capacity to handle our risks? Open cab? Seatbelts?
  • Water supply - is our supply line large enough for drafting/hydrant operations? Do we have enough draft sites? In non-hydranted areas can we get enough water on wheels? Do we have enough for a reliable initial attack until help arrives?
  • Training - do our people know enough to recognize situations and respond properly on fires, extrications, hazmats?

The last point to me is the most important and hopefully those that write the really important articles we read, or should should be reading (Dr. Carter, Chief Goldfeder, etc.) agree with me: properly trained personnel mitigate incidents, not equipment. Sometimes doing the right thing to make improvements doesn't involve money. Many of the important steps in improving our operations don't cost anything such as attitude adjustments and culture changes.

My philosophy is and always has been that there are only three ways to leave any incident: either wet, tired, or dirty. Leaving a scene on a stretcher or in a body bag is not an option. None of us on this side of the clouds can guarantee that, but certainly we can reduce the risks.

The best tool any public safety agency has is well-disciplined, well-trained people. No matter how expensive or how many bells and whistles you have on your trucks, no matter how high-end the equipment you purchase, if the people in your organization aren't properly trained to use what you have then you will never get to any Point B.

To answer the training question, we have to take an honest assessment of our personnel and ask: do we have more Darryl's than Larry's? For those who aren't old enough to have seen the Bob Newhart show, ask yourself: do you have idiots in your department? Do you have people that never come to training? Do you have people that freelance on calls? They don't take a tool with them, don't take the TIC, a radio, or don't wear an SCBA when they should?

These are idiots and all we will have if we get a grant for new bunker gear is well-dressed idiots. We won't have a safe fireground operation as long as they continue to operate in this way. If there is no SOP for seatbelts, or even if there is one and our personnel don't wear them, you will kill or injure your own people. We can't predict accidents since there are other drivers on the road, that's why we call them accidents. The first step to improve our response safety is clicking that seatbelt. Ask someone who was thrown through a windshield if they wear their seatbelt now, if they're still with us. Nothing in our business is an 'if it will happen', it's a 'when it happens'. If the trucks leave the station we have the risk of a wreck so click the belt.

Please don't get defensive and take that sentiment as if I'm pointing the finger elsewhere. In my 15 years in the fire service I've been an idiot on more than one occasion, and I'm now experienced enough to realize that I was an idiot and mighty lucky I got to leave that incident without being in a bag or on a stretcher. We're all human and we will continue to make mistakes as long as we are on this earth, and I'm no exception to that rule. No one can claim that they will never make a mistake, but what training and discipline do is minimize the frequency of those brain cramps that can cause injuries to us or others.

So sometimes the first step in getting us to that Point B (or C, D, etc) is to handle the attitude and culture factors that are preventing us from being a well-disciplined and well-trained machine. Those are generally free, and when mentioned in grant applications will help to prove that we are doing all we can to improve our operations without an increase in funding. That shows we are still deficient in some aspects of our operations but that we are doing all we can to correct them for free, so we still need additional funding to accomplish our goals.