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Thermal imagers are one of the most frequently requested pieces of equipment by U.S. fire departments appealing for Assistance to Firefighters Grants. In judging FIRE Act applications, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) expects departments to demonstrate their needs effectively and to offer a clear explanation of what will change in the community as a result of the project.
This column provides both general ideas about how to write successful FIRE Act applications and specific ideas about how to appeal for thermal imagers. It is based on interviews with three grant writers who won thermal imagers for their departments in 2004:
- Elbert McMorris, past chief of the Otego, NY, Volunteer Fire Department, completed a FIRE Act grant application for a thermal imager in 2004. On June 18, this 60-member department was awarded $11,700 to buy a thermal imager.
Benefits of Thermal Imaging
The benefits of thermal imaging for fire departments are wide-ranging, from improving the health and safety of the community to helping firefighters respond effectively to hazardous materials incidents. In your FIRE Act application, be as specific as you can about how firefighters and the community can benefit from thermal imaging. Consider the greatest needs and problems for your department, and explain how the technology might help. For example, if a staffing shortage is your greatest challenge, you might discuss how thermal imagers speed overhaul efforts and reduce the strain on personnel.
What were the benefits of thermal imaging emphasized in your department’s FIRE Act application?
Kleinsmith: “We focused on the health and safety of firefighters and the health and safety of the community. Our application mentioned the use of thermal imaging by the rapid intervention team, as well as the use of the technology in responding to motor vehicle accidents on and off the Pennsylvania Turnpike.”
Lusk: “The key philosophy of our department is, ‘Everybody comes home.’ During our needs assessment and pre-planning, that was our focus – we’re all going home. As a firefighter, you’ll have to take some chances, but being safe is a priority, and we prioritized firefighter safety very highly in our application. A thermal imager will allow us to fight fire better, safer and smarter. We also included in our argument that a thermal imager would help us stretch our volunteer resources by making them more effective during responses.”
An effective demonstration of need is a key element of your FIRE Act application. Explain why your department is unable to budget for the expenditure and why you are in need of assistance from the federal government. The more you know about local, county and state fiscal trends and issues that constrain the department, the more solid your grant will be. Paint a picture of your local economy. In this portion of your grant, you should also address other funding sources that exist within the department.
How did your department demonstrate need in its FIRE Act application?
Kleinsmith: “To demonstrate need, we discussed the financial burden of recent purchases of necessities, including a pumper-tanker, compliant SCBA and compatible communications systems. We also noted other sources of income, including money from the township, public donations, quarterly drawings and fundraising events managed by the department.”
Lusk: “In writing our grant, I noted the annual budget constraints, stagnant population, current debt load of the department and the need to purchase a compliant pumper within the next two years. The fact that the incorporated limits of the town are static due to a flood plain, a river and hilly terrain gives us a finite area for a tax base, and we don’t have the ability to annex.”