The head of the U.S. Fire Service wants to give departments in "high-risk and economically deprived" communities a leg up in the grant process.
While speaking at the annual VCOS symposium in Clearwater, Fla. on Nov. 6, USFA Administrator Kelvin Cochran said he hopes to offer non-competitive grants as soon as next year to communities that don't have the money or the resources needed to obtain them.
Under the plan, departments in selected communities would be awarded Fire Prevention and Safety grants without having to go though the application process.
Unlike bigger departments that have the resources, Cochran said these departments -- situated in urban and rural areas -- are currently being left out.
"They shouldn't ever have to compete for these grants," he said. "In most cases, they don't even have the means to apply for them."
The idea will be explored as part of a larger assessment study focusing on ways to improve various areas of the nation's fire service. Cochran said he expects the study to take between six months to a year to perform and that he hopes to have the non-competitive component in place by the time the 2010 grants are distributed.
"It's a very aggressive goal," he said.
The main reason for offering the non-competitive grants would be to help decrease civilian casualties and property loss in the country's most impoverished areas, according to Cochran.
He pointed out that over the last three years, the number of civilian fire deaths has come to a plateau while it had been steadily decreasing over the previous 33 years. He believes the communities that would be targeted by this plan have the most to gain from fire education.
He also spoke further about the need to take a closer look at the way FIRE Act grants are being distributed as a whole in order to make sure the system is an efficient one. A large part of that, he said, is making sure the money is going to where it is needed the most instead of just those departments that have the resources to apply for them.
"Our goal is to make sure the things you get are filling gaps in your capabilities," he said, using the example that not all departments need a hazmat team.
"We would not have what we have today without them," he said, but added that despite the overwhelming success the program has been for the fire service, the grants are "under constant scrutiny and even though we know the proof is in the pudding, nothing has been created to help silence the critics and naysayers."