Finding The $ To Make The Small Fire Department Work

Steve Meyer examines the issue of funding for small fire departments, with suggestions for maximizing resources.


How do you operate a fire department on $10,000 a year with half of the money eaten up by insurance?" That was the lament of the chief of a small fire department as he leaned against the second-hand 1970s-era truck, its once-gleaming paint having long ago lost its luster, a puddle underneath...


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High Visibility

There may also be a "sugar daddy" with a kind heart toward your fire department. Your sugar daddy could be an industry or a corporation, a high-profile individual in the community or the quiet older lady down the street from the fire station. Whatever the source, the only way these blessings are found is by keeping your ear to the ground and asking the right question at the right time. Make sure you have a goal or project in mind and be certain adequate recognition goes with contributors from these sources - if the contributor wants it. Many are the stories of a corporation plugging major dollars into some deserving small community volunteer organization. In most cases the only reason it happened was because the organization was visible, had a legitimate need and had leadership aggressively pursuing alternate avenues of funding.

U.S. Department of Justice grants administered through local emergency management agencies have netted some necessary equipment for fire departments, in particular communications equipment. For information about these grants contact your local emergency management office. Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) have provided some funding for fire protection needs in the way of facilities. For information on CDBG grants go to your nearest community development office or contact the CDBG coordinator at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development by calling 202-708-1577. The website www.hud.gov/offices/cpd/communitydevelopment/programs/stateadmin/index.cfm also has information.

Aid Through Foresters

The Volunteer Fire Assistance (VFA) program, formerly known as the Rural Community Fire Protection (RCFP) Program under the U.S. Forest Service, provides financial, technical and other assistance to state foresters to train and equip fire departments in rural areas and rural communities. The state forester passes the money along to fire departments.

Eligible fire departments must serve a community with a population of 10,000 or less. Most grants will be less than $5,000. Funding must be matched on a 50-50 basis by non-federal dollars or in-kind, and can be used for fire equipment, training and start-up organization of fire departments. Contact your state forester for information.

Also available to fire departments is federal and state surplus equipment. Thousands of military vehicles have been converted to firefighting use in the United States and many fire departments have received surplus generators and breathing air compressors. Contact your state forester or go to the website www.fs.fed.us/fire/planning/fepp for information on federal excess property. The GSA Office of Transportation and Property Management, Property Management Division can be contacted in Washington DC at 703-305-7240 for information on Federal Surplus Property Programs. Your local emergency management office may also have a direct link to securing surplus equipment.

Some things to remain on the vigilant outlook for are the millions of dollars rumored to be coming back to emergency first responders through Homeland Security. Another place is the new farm bill, which has provisions for fire protection funding. Funds have not been appropriated as of yet in the farm bill for that purpose, but Washington bureaucrats are unpredictable and there could be a rule change that suddenly makes millions of dollars in funds available.

Don't forget to contact local media to do at least a news brief, maybe even a feature story so you really grab the spotlight when you are selected as a grant or trust recipient. By doing so you will not only give recognition where credit is due, you will also focus more attention on your project and needs, quite possibly snaring even more funding.

Alternative Funding