The ability of applicants to begin work as soon as an award is given is one of the major priorities because the stimulus is designed to create jobs.
Thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program is going to be opening up a new application period the week of June 8 for the purpose of handling construction-based project needs in the fire service.
Traditionally the only two federal grant programs where construction was eligible are the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Community Initiative program and the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department's Community Block Development Program, and unless the stars aligned properly under median income eligibility metrics like these weren't available to most of the fire service either. So we've been left out of the construction grant business for a long time, and this program presents the first opportunity for a fire department to make some upgrades in their stations.
While the AFG related programs have always been competitive, the Firefighters Fire Station Construction grant (FSC) program will beat them by a long shot with only $210 million available and an expected 8,000 to 10,000 applications being submitted. So it will be a tight shot, but for many it is the only one available to receive the quantity of funding needed to make the upgrade in facilities.
The gist of the program is straightforward: the maximum total funding to go to one applicant is $15 million and the maximum project under each application is $5 million. Both new construction and renovations are eligible, but there are several areas on both types of projects that are needed to score maximum points.
Since the program is part of the stimulus package a side goal is to create jobs, so the ability of applicants to begin as soon as an award is given is one of the major priorities, along with points going to those that have suffered higher unemployment rates. One of the other major points is those that have the land already purchased and zoned for fire station usage. No preference is specifically being given to new station construction versus renovation/expansion of a department's existing facilities, just the usual ramifications of the unknown cost-benefit equation.
The timeline of the project is also important, which is why the preference is to land-owning applicants since finding properly zoned land at an affordable price is tough in some areas. Those that have drawings, architectural approvals, permits, and other requirements will also score higher. In addition any applicants that have had their construction projects in their Capital Improvement Plan, but have had to continuously abandon them every year because of a tight budget will also receive a higher consideration.
Within the projects themselves the goals are to replace unsafe or uninhabitable structures, again not caring whether this means renovate or build new. So if you've had mold issues, leaking roofs, lack of proper HVAC, or even parts of the station falling off, this would be the program for you.
The second priority is similar to other grant programs in that their goal is awards that will enhance the ability of the organization funded to do their job. In our world this is responding to calls and increasing our abilities to handle different types of calls with enough staffing to meet NFPA 1710 or 1720 requirements, as well as the ability to provide adequate mutual aid when requested. Within that is coupled the need for proper amenities for 24/7 occupation, regardless of whether the department has any paid personnel or not. This means proper male and female bathrooms, male and female bunkrooms, a proper kitchen and eating area, and several other health and safety points related to NFPA 1500, such as a properly sprinklered building, monitored smoke/carbon monoxide alarm system, and exhaust removal systems -- vehicle mounted systems are not eligible.