Fire Service Grants: Are We There Yet?

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

No amount of training or discipline will make unsafe equipment safe; but in order to prove to anyone that is going to hand out funding the only way to have the competitive edge is by showing in our need to get to Point B that we already handled everything that we can using our own money to get where we are at now. Giving us the funding in our application is the next step to improving our operations.

Financial Assessments
Another major point that separates the funded from unfunded applications is that they know why they can't afford it, not just that they can't afford it. They know their financial Point A and why they can't reach their financial Point B in order to tackle this project on their own. And it's a little more complicated than just saying 'our project costs more than our budget'.

Remember when we're submitting a grant application our argument is being judged by other people who afford things that most of us don't have the money to pay for in a single block either. We have mortgages since we couldn't pay off the house with savings or annual earnings, plus car payments and other things like that. So we finance things we can't afford, an option some vendors offer with needed equipment.

Most of us also save up over time to buy other items such as furniture, TVs, computers, etc. So saving over multiple budget years is also an option that can be used to purchase needed equipment. Many departments have a truck fund or capital expense fund that they put a little money into for a rainy day or in case of a major incident that damages a lot of equipment. They'll have the funding to purchase replacements for some items quickly so the department isn't at a lower level of operations for very long. There is nothing wrong with planning ahead and you won't be punished for doing so since it makes sense for everyone.

Does this apply to us you may ask? Maybe, maybe not. But unless you've done a financial assessment to see where your money is going you can't accurately say that you can or can't afford a project, or whether or not you could save up for it. We have to know what we're doing with what funding we get now and why we are spending it on the things we're spending it on in order to demonstrate that we're not possibly wasting it on things that aren't as important.

Don't cry poor over your ability to afford 20 sets of new bunker gear to replace 10-year-old sets if you just paid cash for a new chief's car. This means you're not doing the right thing with the money you do have, so your ability to properly handle a grant award's proceeds might also be in question when the reviewers look over it. Replacing bunker gear that is over 10 years old is one way to do that. Buying a chief's car doesn't quite further our wet/tired/dirty goal, so maybe we should handle the truly important things first.

This crucial financial assessment is often skipped, and it is important because in the grant industry the average is only one out six applications gets funded. So five out of six times we are going to need to spend our own money to improve our operations. Our applications have to reflect that we're doing all that we can without additional funding. Again, that's what separates competitive but unfunded applications from funded applications. All grant programs are competitive, meaning more hands than money. So if we want to be the ones reaping the benefits we need to put together the most competitive applications possible.

Many Hands, Little Money
If we are successful with the financial assessment and we are still not funded, don't claim the program is broken. Thousands of competitive applications don't get funded every year. As we all learn more about putting competitive applications together that means we are raising the bar each time the program cycles around, so we have to be better than we were before. Doing the right thing doesn't guarantee funding, so if you aren't funded take consolation in the fact that people that needed the money more than you were funded. This is especially true when it comes to the AFG program. By the time an application gets funded a computer and a panel of fire service members all agreed an application was worthy.