For those that haven’t been able to get to one of the pre-shutdown Department of Homeland Security (DHS) workshops on the Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG), or hit one of the online webinars, there were some changes instituted for the 2013 program that might alter your ideas about applications and projects that you’ll want to know about. The application period is Nov. 4 through Dec. 6 and the program guidelines were released this week.
I'll probably mention it several times in this article, but like I’ve always said and it warrants repeating until everyone gets it: proper assessments and project design are application independent! So regardless of what changed with AFG, what you need and why you need it are the same yesterday as they are today. The changes in what you’re allowed to apply for in AFG, how the money is split, and everything else in this program has nothing to do with the base fact that your department needs what it needs. You need to figure that out long before grant periods open. But let’s cover those changes first and then I’ll go over what the changes mean for the various applicants and your potential projects.
One of the changes that kicked in before the awards started flowing for 2012 AFG was that applicant tracking moved from the Central Contractor Registry (CCR) to the System for Award Management (SAM). All applicants are required to be registered in this system before applying, and keeping up with the renewal process as these registrations “expire” every year. I put expire in quotes because you don’t need to re-enter everything every year, just review each screen, update what needs updating, or just save until you submit it again.
The same requirement exists for Dun & Bradstreet numbers. All applicants must have those along with a valid Employer Identification Number (EIN) or sometimes called a Tax ID. This is what your accountants would be filing your annual returns to the IRS under for your organization. Unlike many rumors that have been floating around for years, reporting to the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) is not required prior to submitting an application, but it is required if you are awarded for the Period of Performance of your grant.
The Allocation of Money for 2013 AFG
The old split of the program was that career departments were in a pool that was up to 48% of the available funding, while combination/volunteer departments would split at least 52% of the funding, with combinations garnering 33 percent and volunteers 19 percent. Statistics seemed to show that career departments never really put in that many applications, and also that combination departments were getting unfairly judged. These are not new developments either. The Criteria Development Committee made up of fire service members were making recommendations as far back as 2009. These changes were not a knee-jerk reaction to anything sudden, the shutdown, or anything else. There are valid reason for these changes.
Based on the reported total award money amount of $320,920,083 for 2013 AFG the breakdown will now be:
25% to combination departments – In the past they were lumped with volunteer departments and since you have some paid members, the budgets and financials often hurt you going against all the volunteer departments with similar or smaller budgets. Now there is a big chunk ($80,230,021) set aside just for you where your financials and everything else will be judged on an equal playing field.
25% to volunteer departments – Departments with smaller run numbers and lower populations will have more of a fighting chance for the $80,230,021 since they are now in a section with fair competition.
25% to career departments – This is the part where change might appear bad, but this is more in line with application totals from the past. They are now eligible for $80,230,021.
10% is up for grabs – This is an open lot for all three types of departments that don’t score high enough to get a piece of the 25% of the separated funding. Type of department will not play into the scoring for $32,092,008, just like it has been in the past.
10% for fire prevention and safety – Even though it’s a separate application period, the funding for Fire Prevention & Safety grant (FP&S) comes from the AFG program. In the past, it’s only been allocated to be a minimum of 5%, but awards have been in the $35 million range. So this is a slight reduction, but not much of a change in opportunity. This application period will probably not open until January or February of 2014.
2% to non-affiliated EMS providers – This has not changed from past years. So the $6,418,401 is for organizations that solely provide EMS transport services and are not affiliated with a fire department or hospital.
3% to state fire academies – Yes, this is new: 3% ($9,627,602) of the AFG funding is going to state fire academies. This is only for the state academy in each state, not local academies, or for-profit training companies. The academy must be state run, which means basically one application per state for AFG in this section. The cap is $500,000 per award, and projects can include vehicles to provide training (not emergency responses), training materials and equipment to support training. Personnel costs are not allowed.
This is not a separate funding category, but a requirement that 3.5% ($11,232,203) of the total funding goes to EMS-related projects. This includes the 2% for non-affiliated EMS providers mentioned above, so assuming all of that goes to them there will be 1.5% ($4,813,801) of the funding across all of the fire department categories going to EMS projects.
Vehicle Funding Twist
The totals above are for all projects in each of the categories, so the award funding covers vehicles and operations and safety projects. As in the past, the limit on vehicle awards is in place and it is the usual 25% of the funding, but this year there is a twist to it in that 10% of the available vehicle funding will go to ambulances. This only affects the fire side, not EMS side, since the only vehicles that are Priority 1 for EMS applicants are ambulances.
Wrap your head around this real quick: 10% of the 25% of the 25% in each Fire Department Classification is going to ambulances. Don’t worry, I won’t leave you hanging there, it’s easy to get lost in the numbers but that’s actually how the math works.
To break it down into real numbers so it doesn't take a pot of coffee and a phone call to that friend that can do calculus in their head, here’s how it looks:
$80,230,021 is the 25% of funding for combination departments
$20,057,505 is the 25% of that which is the cap on vehicle awards
$2,005,750 is the 10% of the vehicle cap that will go to ambulances
That leaves $18,051,750 for Fire Apparatus in the Combination Department category. The same math applies to the Volunteer, Career, and Up For Grabs 10% that all 3 types of departments can compete for.
In a nutshell, if you’re a fire department that runs EMS transport, this is your best year yet to go after an ambulance if you are in need in comparison to past years. Even though ambulances have been Priority 1 vehicles in the past, they have not been funded very often despite the overall need. Note I said need, which goes back to proper project design. Overall fleet age, quantity of vehicle types, age of first-out vehicles, and the other metrics are still in effect so just because they have more to hand out doesn’t mean you’ll be able to waltz into this category and come away with an award. You still have to be competitive in the first place for making the request based on your assessment. But this is where you might make the decision to go for that ambulance instead of another type of vehicle.
Local Funding Match Changes
There were two changes in this arena for 2013 that might alter your project designs as well. The old breakdown was:
Under 20,000 permanent residents: 5% local match
20,000-50,000 permanent residents: 10% local match
Over 50,000 permanent residents: 20% local match
The new 2013 local matching is now:
Under 20,000 permanent residents: 5% local match (same)
20,000-1 million permanent residents: 10% local match (new)
Over 1 million permanent residents: 15% local match (new)
In addition the caps on the total funding certain applications can receive based on their populations has also changed. In the past it was:
Under 500,000 permanent residents: $1 million in federal assistance
500,000 to 1 million permanent residents: $1.75 million in federal assistance
Over 1 million permanent residents: $2.75 million in federal assistance
For 2013 these caps have changed to:
Under 100,000 permanent residents: $1 million in federal assistance
100,000-500,000 permanent residents: $2 million in federal assistance
500,000 to 1 million permanent residents: $3 million in federal assistance
1 million to 2.5 million permanent residents: $6 million in federal assistance or 1% of total AFG awards ($3,209,200 for 2013)
Over 2.5 million permanent residents: $9 million in federal assistance or 1% of total AFG awards ($3,209,200 for 2013)
These population breakdowns are for the total population in an application, so whether it’s an individual or a regional application, in the case of the latter it’s the sum of the populations of all involved partners, not just the host. And as the above says, the caps are higher than the allowable funding for the highest two population categories, but that should give us hope that more funding is voted into the program over the next few years so we at least get back to where we were a few years ago when AFG alone had $650 million to $750 million in it.
Check back tomorrow for another article that covers priorities, allowable applications and the scoring matrix.
Get the 2013 Assistance to Firefighters Grants program guidance here.
BRIAN P. VICKERS, has been in the fire service for 18 years with numerous state and national certifications for Fire, Rescue and EMS disciplines. He is a former Department Training Officer and District Captain, as well as a Chapter Author for Fire and Emergency Services Safety and Survival, Brady Publishing's textbook on the NFFF 16 Life Safety Initiatives (published April 2011). He is CEO of Vickers Consulting Services (VCS), one of the country’s leading public safety consulting firms specializing in strategic financial planning and grants. VCS has helped over 3,500 clients receive over $450 million in grant awards in the last 7 years. Their website is www.vickersconsultingservices.com.