The application period for the FIRE Act Grant program will open Monday. Those "unanticipated technicalities" FEMA ran into that delayed the opening seem to have been worked out this week.
Brian Cowan, Director of FEMA Grants Programs, said this program will looks much the same as the preceeding ones with the major difference being the amount of money distributed. Cowan pointed out a couple things that modify the $750 million number. Nearly $5 million has been deducted in an across the board federal appropriations reduction of .65%.
There is also 5% available to FEMA for administrative costs. And each program sets aside money for Special Fire Prevention and Safety Grant.These grants are given to those recognized for their experience and expertise with respect to fire prevention or fire safety programs and activities. FEMA gives priority in this category to organizations that focus on prevention of fire (or fire-related) injuries to children. The amount this program has set aside for this is about $27.5 millionl
This means that about $680 million will be given out in fire department grants. FEMA has until September 30, 2004 to distribute this money, but Cowan said they plan to move along as rapidly as an efficiently run program will allow.
There are no funds set aside specifically for terrorism preparedness. Cowan described instead the evolution of the grant program.
"We have always had in the guidelines ... if a department sends in a project that benefits other departments, that is a good thing. This year we have been more specific about interoperability. It is feasable a department could be thinking terrorism preparedness, ... there are things you do in dealing with fire that are essential in dealing with any hazard, communictations for example."
"The only thing is that we want to be certain about is that the applicants know that to the extent they have regional approaches, interoperability, all hazzards, to the extent that that is applicable, that is a good thing and it will be looked at as cost benefit. But is not something that does or does not put you into the competitive range," Cowan said.
The weeklong delay has been filled with meetings by interested groups, agendas not entirely known. But there was considerble concern that the Bush Administration was interested in targeting some of the money toward terrorism preparedness. On Wednesday, fire service groups met with Congressional and Administration leaders working to hold off any major alterations to the program.
Rep. James T. Walsh (NY-25), Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on VA/HUD and Independent Agencies, was applauded by fire service groups this week for taking the message to the Administration that the $750 million needed to stay primarily for basic fire and rescue needs.
"Throughout the week, I have conferred with members of the [Bush] Administration and [national fire service groups] to address concerns regarding the timely implementation of the program at levels approved earlier this year by Congress," Walsh said Thursday afternoon. "I'm pleased that Secretary Ridge indicated today that the application process is set to begin on March 10th at the $750 million level."
The wording of the official announcement from Ridge, however, is still pending but expected soon.
The groups known to have participated in discussions this week related to the program include the Congressional Fire Services Institute, the National Volunteer Fire Council, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the International Association of Arson Investigators, and the National Fire Protection Association.
Firehouse.com will post the information when available.