On November 16, 2009, the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant application period will open. This grant, originally opened in 2005 by the United States Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), is designed to increase the number of responding firefighters to emergency incidents in the United States. “The goal of SAFER is to enhance the local fire departments’ abilities to comply with staffing, response and operational standards established by NFPA and OSHA (NFPA 1710 and/or NFPA 1720 and OSHA 1910.134”. In addition to paying for the hiring of full-time firefighters, this grant also targets recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters. This article will focus on the hiring aspect of the grant. This year’s grant has significant changes over prior year’s grants, and has been redesigned by the Obama Administration to “Get America back to work.” For those of you considering this opportunity, why not “Write a Successful SAFER Grant for Your Fire Department.” To help you along with this application, a winning grant narrative from the 2008 SAFER program has been included for ideas.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Each year, many applications are submitted for this program, yet they are not awarded for a variety of reasons. The most common complaint by peer reviewers involved in evaluating the applications is that grant writers do not read the directions. Before doing anything else, it is recommended that you download and print out the grant guidance documents at http://www.firegrantsupport.com/docs/2009SAFERguidance.pdf and the frequently asked questions (FAQS) at http://www.firegrantsupport.com/safer/faq/ . While reading this information, hi-light key points and make notes for future reference. Once the grogram opens, a tutorial will be available at www.firegrantsupport.com.
Determining the amount of firefighters needed is your first step. The goal is to meet National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and OSHA requirements for fire and emergency response. A total of four firefighters are required to be on scene prior to initiating interior structural firefighting operations. This can be done with all paid, all volunteer or a combination of both as outlined in the following narrative.
A large part of the application involves personnel costs. While a grant writer may understand the basic salary of a firefighter, they may not know the actual cost of a firefighter. A firefighter’s salary is made up of the following key components:
• Base pay. This is the base salary of a firefighter typically based on a 56 hour work week as outlined in the Fair Labors Standards Act (FLSA) http://www.dol.gov/esa/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs8.htm . Firefighters typically receive straight time for a 53 hour work week, and overtime for the remaining six hours. This overtime equates to approximately 156 hours extra per year, and must be included in the grant application, or your department will not be reimbursed under the grant rules. For more information, go to http://www.flsa.com/fire.html .
• Benefits include medical, dental, vision, retirement, holiday, sick leave and vacation. Contact Human Resources in your fire department to determine the actual costs of each area. Many grant writers neglect to include these costs and find that a grant will actually not pay for the actual costs of a firefighter. In some instances, these costs equate to 50% of the actual salary of a firefighter. Be diligent in calculating these costs!
• Overtime coverage for off duty SAFER personnel is ineligible for funding, along with the costs of uniforms, personal protective equipment, etc. Once again, read the guidance documents. These areas are costly, and a department will be required to cover a substantial amount with a SAFER firefighter off duty for vacation or sick leave. Where will this money come from? Some departments spend over 40% of the actual salary of a single firefighter for overtime coverage. Does your organization have the funding available to cover these costs?
Prior SAFER grants involved a five year program for hiring firefighters with a significant matching requirement of funds by a fire department. This year’s grants involve a three year program, with SAFER paying all eligible costs for the first two years, and the fire department absorbing all costs for a third year. One caveat to this requirement is that if the grant is used to rehire laid off firefighters, there will be no third year matching requirement. With significant layoffs of firefighters nationwide in the last 18 months, this grant could be a godsend for many out of work firefighters. Here are a few success stories from prior grants:
WRITING YOUR NARRATIVE
It has been said that the SAFER grant narratives make or break the grant application. Your goal in this area is to make the grant reviewing committee cry. Pages 26 and 27 of the guidance documents http://www.firegrantsupport.com/docs/2009SAFERguidance.pdf cover narrative requirements. A sample narrative is provided below that actually received a 2008 SAFER award as a starting point for your own grants narrative:
Our Fire Department is a volunteer/rural fire department in the western United States has struggled with staffing needs for the ninety years since its inception in the early 1900’s. As our state’s oldest continually operating fire district, we serve a former mining community, established in the 1860’s, and protects old wooden buildings, older mobile homes, and a low income elderly population. The department currently responds to structure fires with a volunteer Chief Officer and a two person engine for a total of three (3) personnel. Typically, a mutual aid engines responds within thirty minutes of dispatch, however they not available for initial interior attack (2 in/2 out). With this limited staffing, the community, and firefighters are at risk due to the remote location of the community. Firefighters will expend at least one full cylinder of breathing air on an SCBA before a mutual aid engine is close to the community. The department is not compliant with NFPA 1720, the standard determined to cover our fire department, as the department is all volunteer. Staffing levels for structural, or wildland fires, as well as delivery of other services including Emergency Medical Services do not meet NFPA 1720 or OSHA 2 in/2 out for Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health (IDLH) atmosphere requirements. The department is striving to meet the minimum requirements of NFPA 1720. The department is seeking a grant to hire six full time personnel to staff our first due engine with two personnel on duty 24 hours per day, seven days per week from this station to augment the volunteer personnel that currently respond. Out of seven structure fires in the last 12 months, the second engine has never responded with a full, two person crew. Typically, the volunteers respond to incidents in their private vehicles. For the 10 years from 1997 to 2007, the department fielded approximately 3 volunteer personnel per structure fire, including the Fire Chief.
The department falls critically short on staffing for 2 in/2 out requirements during initial attack. As our town is a retirement community, it has a limited number of residents to draw from and two of the volunteer personnel are over sixty years old. Unfortunately, due to the population explosion in our state, the demand for service is ever increasing, and the department responds to incidents along the a State Highway that is a component of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Corridor. Due to the current shortage of volunteers, a neighboring fire district has assigned a Brush Engine to our District with one firefighter during fire season to respond to wildland fires in our area. A 2007 study of neighboring departments’ provided a basis for calculation of salaries and benefits to keep us comparable with neighboring departments to better recruit and retain career staff.
This introduction briefly explains the community’s needs, and outline the problems faced by the community. Following an introduction, the narrative should include the specifics of the grant. The following narrative continues from the introduction above.
The SAFER funding will allow the department to staff a fully equipped, NFPA compliant engine 24/7, purchased in 1994 with two qualified Firefighter I/II-EMT-1’s. While volunteer personnel have been successful in a support role, such as responding directly to the fire or emergency scene and other support roles, it is difficult, if not impossible to achieve two people staffing on engine companies. The successful award of the SAFER grant will allow the department to staff one, two-person engine to an alarm assignment, (currently, one Chief Officer and two one-person engines) Average staffing on structure fires, including volunteers and Chief Officer is typically 3 persons, with wildland response and EMS incidents handled by one or two personnel. With SAFER staffing, the department will be able to assign 4-5 personnel per structure fire at least 95% of the time, an increase of 100% over current staffing levels. Budgeted SAFER funds will be utilized to pay for salaries, benefits (retirement, medical, dental, vision, life insurance), and other basic personnel expenses for six (6) full time personnel, with two (3) personnel each assigned to one of three 24 hour shift/platoons. The department will be on a three platoon, 24 hour rotating shift schedule to match neighboring fire district schedules. SAFER personnel will receive a baseline physical as required by NFPA 1582 Comprehensive Occupational Medical Programs for Fire Departments, along with immunizations, and annual physicals. All personnel are required to work out on a physical fitness program daily, with approximately 1 hour per shift to be devoted to physical fitness. The department is currently implementing annual fitness evaluations for members.
All personnel hired under the SAFER program will be required to complete a 10 week, comprehensive Fire Academy which includes Firefighter I & II through the IFSAC/Pro Board Certification; Emergency Medical Technician-1, Hazardous Materials First Responder Operations; Incident Command System ICS-100 & 200; NIMS 700; Driver Operator I; Auto Extrication; Confined Space Rescue; Wildland Firefighting; and other entry level courses. This training will be completed at a joint academy hosted annually by a neighboring Fire District, in cooperation with other local fire districts. Live Fire training will be conducted at regional burn facilities in order to meet live fire training safety requirements.
With approximately 200 incidents per year, the department handles a variety of incidents on a daily basis. A staffed engine will better serve the 2 square mile fire district with 1,200 residents for not only fires, but other incidents, including EMS, as all personnel are required to be trained to the Basic Life Support (BLS/EMT) level. With ambulance response times typically in the 30-40 minute time frame, having BLS/EMT on scene improves survivability of patents, and initial patient care. A paid engine will also reduce response times in all areas of the district, currently served by a volunteer engine with extended turnout time. This capability will reduce response times and save lives, by delivering BLS services within four minutes and will greatly enhance the way of life in the community. Additional fireground personnel will also enhance firefighter safety, by allowing one company (volunteer) to be designated as the Rapid Intervention Company (RIC), a function which is currently not filled due to a lack of personnel. Our Fire Station is fully functional with living quarters capable of housing 3 full time personnel, and was remodeled in the spring of 2007 to accommodate these potential additional positions. This grant will also benefit neighboring Fire Districts through mutual aid agreements. The State Forestry Department, United States Department of the Interior will also benefit through wildland response agreements.
The addition of six personnel to the department will result in one two-person engine company to be added, allowing the department to reduce the loss of life and property through improved response times in addition to more on scene personnel, which will have the added benefit of improving firefighter safety by having more personnel available to respond, and on all structural fires, thus providing Rapid Intervention Teams and additional personnel to rotate firefighters during overhaul and other operations.
ADDRESSING COMMUNITY RISKS
The grant requests your input on the actual risks to the community. At this point, it is essential that you outline how your community suffers from poor response coverage.
Based on the diverse needs of the community, with a multi-risk hazard, including residential structural including mobile homes, state highways, and wildland urban interface, the department is required to maintain adequate staffing for a variety of incidents. The department is currently unable to meet the 2 in/2 out NFPA/OSHA requirements on structure fires with the current staffing due to a lack of staffing, particularly during daytime hours. With personnel required to be committed as an Incident Commander/Safety Officer and additional personnel needed to support rural water shuttle tanker/tender operations, fire attack forces become quickly depleted. As temperatures in this portion of our state routinely exceed the 100 degree mark in the summer and fall, personnel safety becomes a factor after several air cylinders in SCBA are expended. This creates a significant safety hazard to responding firefighters. In addition, limited suppression personnel are unable to satisfactorily complete a primary search of a structure in the initial phases of an incident, thus putting the lives of the public at risk. By adding the SAFER positions, the department will be able to meet initial attack staffing requirements for the first time in the history of the department. This will allow subsequent volunteer staffed apparatus and mutual aid companies to shuttle water or serve in a Rapid Intervention capacity.
The grant also requires you to explain why you have not been able to provide adequate staffing with your funding and how you have tried to address this need.
The department protects a 2 square mile rural area, primarily composed of fixed income, elderly residents residing in mobile or single family homes. One-half (50%) of the district is wildland area, with little or no tax revenue. 45% of the district provides most of the tax base for the district. The state highway places a burden on the district due to a high demand for service with no revenue to cover services. The department hosts fundraising activities including pancake breakfasts and dinners to raise funds to purchase necessary items such as Rapid Intervention (RIT) equipment and basic firefighting tools. Raising the fire tax is not an option for the district due to the fixed income levels and a cap set by the state on taxes. The Board of Directors for the fire district, which is composed of fixed income retirees, will not approve additional tax levees for the community. The district is committed to matching the required portion of this grant, with current and future development and growth in place to maintain this project beyond the required five years of this project. The department is additionally committed to provide a high level of service to the community while insuring safety for our personnel. The SAFER Grant will provide the necessary personnel for this goal, and will allow the department to establish a baseline of adequate staffing that can be maintained over a significant time frame with existing projected tax revenue. Growth in the area will realize additional long term revenue beginning in 2008 which will allow the department to maintain this program beyond the required five years. Examples include an in progress annexation of a 17 square miles with a population of 2,000 This annexation will bring in approximately $315,000 per year in additional tax revenue beginning in Fiscal Year 2010. An additional annexation is also in progress which will bring in an additional $100,000 per year in tax revenue. Combined, these two annexations will fund the SAFER positions indefinitely; HOWEVER the firefighters are needed immediately to serve the residents, while tax laws prohibit fire districts from collecting tax revenue on newly annexed areas for at least 18 months. Other continued growth will cover matching requirements in 2008-2010.
ADDRESSING OTHER ISSUES
The Federal government is attempting to get people back to work, but as a part of the current labor laws, you will still be required to address the recruitment of minorities. With the grant also addressing the laid off firefighters, you will be required to provide details on how your department laid off firefighters and how you plan to bring them back to work.
Explaining how you will fund these positions for the third year is also critical, unless you are rehiring laid off firefighters. Here is a sample from last year’s winning grant application that covers continued funding:
Currently, there are over 50 homes in the construction, planning, or permitting stage within the fire district. As the homes are built, they are added to the tax rolls after 18-24 months. With an average tax value to the fire district of $400.00 per year, each, at the end of four years, the fire district will realize an additional $20,000 per year in revenue. As this revenue will begin reaching the tax rolls in 2009, the fire district will be able to gradually fund the district share of this grant each year. In addition, the fire district is currently annexing a neighboring community which is without fire protection. As stated previously, this community with a population of approximately 2,000 will bring in an additional $315,000 per year in tax revenue beginning in 2010. In addition, another current annexation of approximately 5 square miles will bring in approximately $100,000 per year in additional tax revenue beginning in Fiscal Year 2010. This growth will not only cover SAFER expenses, however it will also cover inflationary costs associated with existing department budget needs. The district has a sound financial growth plan, and has taken efforts to provide for future funding; however additional personnel are needed at this time to provide for enhanced service and firefighter safety.
FEMA has traditionally attempted to insure that volunteer firefighters are not discriminated against. How are they discriminated against? By preventing full time firefighters to serve as volunteers in the communities which they live in. There are several issues at stake here that must be addressed, including FLSA issues and Organized Labor Agreements. Consult your County or City Attorney’s office for an opinion on this issue and be sure to address it in your narrative. Remember, if you do not write it down, it is not addressed and you could lose the grant.
As with any grant application, write a brief conclusion, thanking the reviewers for their time and summarizing your need. This goes a long way as the reviewers will be going over thousands of grants. As retired Fire Chief Alan Brunacini from the Phoenix Fire Department always says “Be Nice!” After all, you are asking for money to create jobs in your community, but there is only $210 million up for grabs. Good luck with your grant writing efforts, and if you succeed in winning a 2009 SAFER grant, take the time next year to work with others on getting a grant for their community.