Looking Outside the Traditional Fire Service Grants Box

Why aren't we going after the rest of the programs that we can get funding from?

Obviously, the goal of any grant application is to hit the bull's eye and bring home the money. But, with an industry-wide grant writing average of only one in six applications getting funded, certainly creating competitive applications will increase our chances of being the one funded instead of the five turned down. Since our goal is to receive funding for any project instead of just one or two, the question should be: are we throwing enough darts to increase our chances that way also?

Many organizations concentrate on just one or two grant applications per year. In the fire service many know about the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (AFG) as well as its siblings the Fire Prevention and Safety (FPS) and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) programs. While they are some of the largest award pots they each have a specific focus that neither of the other two duplicate so in reality there is only one chance in this arena per year to hit certain awards such as personal protective equipment, self-contained breathing apparatus, smoke detector programs, or hiring of personnel.

While it is nice to hit any award, what we really should be looking at is if we need something to improve our organization, why aren't we going after the rest of the programs that we can get funding from? Very few departments have only one or two needs, especially since most everything we use has a limited life cycle. So while it may seem like a lot more work, if we truly have a need we should be tapping every resource available and putting in as many applications as possible so we increase our chances for funding. While many of the programs may be limited in funding amounts, if we can bring in any money for any of our needs we're still making progress so the efforts aren't wasted by any stretch of the imagination.

Some of the other federal programs that fund the fire service include:

U.S. Department of Agriculture - Rural Community Development Program
Monies from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) can be used for just about anything, with the exception of salaries and benefits. So we can use this program for construction projects, vehicles, or equipment.

The funding matrix is based upon the median household income (MHI) of an area, giving three levels of grant eligibility. Organizations can receive 35 percent, 5 percent, or 75 percent of their project in grants from USDA, and in areas of extreme economic distress it can be 100 percent. The nice thing about USDA is that an organization can get 100 percent of their money from USDA since their loan program is practically unlimited so we can do a combination grant/loan for a project. Loan rates are basically at prime rate and they'll amortize up to 40 years to make things as affordable as possible.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development - Community Block Development Grants
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) traditional role has been to housing those in need, but that role has changed in recent years so the program has a new purpose of assisting areas of lower economic status in any way possible. Since everyone deserves a base level of public safety readiness funds from CDBG can be used in the same manners as USDA funds, with the same restriction of no salaries and benefits.

The City of Houston used some of their funds in 2005 to purchase new vehicles, and in past years other cities have done the same as well as build new stations or renovate older buildings. Since CDBG funds are a block grant it is free money for the community.

U.S. Department of Forestry
Forestry runs two programs, the Volunteer Fire Assistance program and the Rural Fire Assistance program. Both have a purpose of decreasing wildland fire risks, but they have different maximum project amounts, different matching requirements, and also they differ in the priorities of certain projects.

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