While there have been many administrative changes over the year, the base level of the program has not strayed from its original intent so the actual priorities for funding are basically the same as they have been in years past. For Operations & Safety, as always PPE and SCBA remain the highest scoring needs in that order, but that doesn’t mean it’s all you can go after by any stretch of the imagination. If you have PPE, but don’t have the gear washer/dryer or proper lockers or racks to help store and maintain your PPE then that could be a competitive need for your department. If you have the SCBA, but no rapid intervention team (RIT) SCBA, no thermal imaging camera, or breathing air compressor within a reasonable distance from your area, those items have competitive stances as well. If people are in your station 24/7, then maybe some of the Station Modification projects like monitored alarm systems, fire sprinklers or exhaust removal systems will be competitive.
Again there are many more projects that are eligible, but your potential level of scoring is dependent on your assessment based against National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and other national standards, what I call measuring sticks. The normal starting point is any items past their recommended NFPA useable lifetime, which on most things is 10 years. But don’t forget that it’s all items in that category, not just what you’re looking to replace. The reason all of your PPE has to be reported is that it’s not about the fact that you need to replace 10 sets of 15-year-old gear, it’s also about how you have 30 sets that are less than five years old. In simple terms, that situation shows an applicant that’s 75% compliant with PPE protection for their firefighters. Grant needs are usually those where you’re a lot closer to 0% compliant, not appearing to be solving the issue on your own without help.
Also remember that all projects must bring departments into compliance with the applicable standards including NFPA, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and EMS protocols depending on your project and state. There is a new NFPA standard for thermal imaging cameras (NFPA 1801) and also one for ambulances (NFPA 1917), so ensure that your project and pricing are within the proper range for the standards. In addition, remember that the grant is funding projects that meet or slightly exceed the NFPA Standards, not the gold standards. It’s certainly possible to option out a PPE coat to $3,000 by itself, or make an $8,000 SCBA, but that's not what AFG is going to fund. Basic is the name of the game.
When it comes to Regional Operations & Safety, as mentioned earlier, the projects are limited, but represent the opportunity to present a stronger application, and also increase the number of applications a single department is involved in. For instance, at the simplest level, if two neighboring departments (“A” and “B”) both need PPE, both need radios, “A” needs rescue tools, and “B” needs SCBA, then “A” can host a Regional PPE application, “B” can host a Regional Radio application, “A” can apply for rescue tools on an individual operations grant, and “B” can apply for SCBA on their individual ops grant. Each department is involved in three applications for things they need within the same year, instead of lumping them all in one application. Any or all of them could fund because they are all scored independently of each other, with the only limit on awards being the total population funding cap.
As mentioned above, for the vehicle side it appears that it might be the year of the ambulance, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of the funding priorities have changed. Overall, the Vehicle Priority Matrix hasn’t changed much from past years, but as mentioned earlier, the inclusion of a Regional Vehicle application will allow for some creative thinking and applications, if you have your assessments together (see the Matrix in the image above left).
In terms of the Regional Vehicles, some common sense has to come into play. Certainly a pumper is going to go on a mutual aid call when requested, as will brush trucks and tankers. Are they a Regional Vehicle application project? Probably not, since the neighboring departments all hopefully have pumpers. Remember, in these applications you not only have to put together all of the call volumes and other statistics, but also the fleet information for everyone involved. If 10 departments have 20 pumpers between them, a Regional Vehicle application isn’t going to look like a great need.
To the contrary, this is where the specialty pieces are going to be more competitive because there most likely aren’t a lot of them in a given area. Aerials, rescues, command, hazmat, air/light and rehab trucks have all had limited success in past years, with all but aerials and rescues being that once in a few years possibly even making Peer Review. As a law of averages situation, the Priority 2 trucks just don’t make Peer Review as Individual applications, but in a Regional Vehicle setting these will be much stronger and will score better.