The Fund Finder News, by Kurt Bradley, Certified Grants Consultant

 

AFG Body Armor Grants for Firefighters?

 

Many of you are aware that with the occurrence of active shooter and mass casualty incidents (AS/MCI) there has arisen a strong argument for making Ballistic Protection Equipment ( BPE) available to firefighters and EMTs to use in the "warm" zone of these critical incidents.

 

The current train of thought seems to center on providing Ballistic Protection Equipment (BPE) to firefighters and EMTs who may be deployed during a tactical response to these incidents but, only for the purposes of "casualty/survivor" recovery and only with a minimum of two law enforcement officers presence who are equipped with long rifles in a relatively secure "warm" zone and not directly into the "hot zone" where an active shooter threat has not already been neutralized. For the record let me say that I am certainly not opposed to BPE for FFs/EMTs but get all your facts first here.

 

BPE coming to AFG eligibility list, but...

 

This morning the following letter was posted on the Internet which appears to state that the 2014 Assistance to Firefighters Grant program will be adding BPE to their "eligibility" list this coming year. This is creating a lot of questions for many in the fire service and EMS. So let's take a look at what was actually said and what is actually occurring and consider some stark realities here.

 

Here is the letter that is making its rounds on the Internet

 

Good morning!

 

As you know, I met with Rep. Capps' staff to provide background on the issue and to seek her support for ballistic protective equipment (BPE) to be made eligible for funding through AFG, which she agreed to strongly support.

 

Although the guidance has yet to be released, I am extremely pleased to report that Rep. Capps was just told that FEMA has for the first time agreed to make BPE eligible in the FY 2014 AFG funding round. While BPE equipment may not initially be a high priority of for funding, as the role of fire/EMS evolves with regard to active shooter and mass casualty situations, FEMA anticipates working with Congress to potentially adjust the funding priority of this equipment. I have attached FEMA's response to Rep. Capps for your records.

 

After the FY14 awards have been made, we will look at whether FEMA provides funding for any BPE and inquire about the number of requests that were made for this equipment, which will provide us with a measure as to whether to reengage with FEMA regarding BPE's priority.

 

The inclusion of BPE on the FY14 AFG funding eligibility list is a big win, especially considering how difficult it can be to get quick action on any agency request. We will be sure to draft thank you letters to Rep. Capps on behalf of the City for her support on this issue.

 

Best,
Nate

Nathaniel J. Potter
Manager, Government Relations
Van Scoyoc Associates
Direct: 202-737-8161
Cell: 206-799-7466

 

Let's take a moment to absorb that

 

Alright folks everyone sit back down in your seats here, quit flashing victory signs and take a breath, this is not the opening of a floodgate to BPE by any means. Although it is apparently true that BPE will in fact be eligible on the 2014 AFG, this is not going to be one of those opportunities where you are going to be able to request a bullet proof vest (BPV) for each of your firefighters, simply because it is eligible.

 

You need to remember here folks that "eligible", is only one piece of the three part conundrum you must solve to get funded by AFG.

 

Priority matters

 

Equipment requested must also be tagged as a "high priority" item to get funded in AFG. I doubt seriously if you are going to see a BPE start out in AFG with a "High" priority for everyone. I seriously doubt that BPE would be prioritized above Structural Turnout Gear or SCBA that is used on almost every single call daily vs. an item that might be needed once or twice in the five year service life of a BPV.

 

I mean, let's be realistic here folks. We still have far too many departments out here struggling to replace turnout gear that is still 10-20 years old and departments using SCBAs with elephant trunk, belt-mounted regulators. If AFG follows its past history and sticks to its historical funding patterns, they are still going to fund this "basic" safety equipment before they will fund BPE.

 

After all, basic structural turnout gear and SCBA are in fact the most "basic" of firefighter personal safety items that there is, because your primary function (for which the grant program exists) cannot be performed without same.

 

The vest isn't all

 

The third thing you need in an AFG application to get funded is to "prove the need". By the time you buy a BVP and a ballistic helmet you are talking a $1500-2000 expenditure per man.

 

Forgot about needing that ballistic helmet didn't you?

 

When the bad guy routinely knows you are wearing body armor, they just aim higher, for your head! Pretty hard to justify a $1500-$2000 per man expenditure for these items when your frequency of facing an active shooter, random gunfire or mass casualty incident is next to nothing as compared to law enforcement who routinely deals with armed suspects on a daily basis.

 

What will AFG's FY2014 funding be?

 

Let's also not forget that AFG is still struggling to keep from losing any additional funding it has still retained. They struggle yearly to hold on to what they currently have and, try to gain more dollars from Congress to fund as many departments as they possibly can. Each year they try to supply those needs and with the current level of funding, they are lucky to fund maybe 2,000 departments yearly out of 16,000 who are applying.

 

Here is another consideration that should be kept in mind. We are talking about a piece of equipment that must be worn over a t-shirt and under your structural turnout coat as well. You will also have to carry an additional helmet. If it is to be considered as a basic item of safety, like normal PPE, that means you have to wear it on every call; you can't leave it hanging in your locker.

 

BPE weighs on average between 7-12 lbs. or more depending upon the threat level it is designed to defeat. That's additional time to dress-out properly, delaying response time further. The retained heat inside your turnout coat is already almost unbearable... and you are now going to add an item which will increase that heat retention even further?

 

The heat is on

 

Take it from someone who wore a BPV for 20 years daily as a cop here in Florida. Body Armor raises your skin temperature another 2 degrees or better. And that was with me wearing only a poly-cotton uniform shirt over it... and sitting in an air-conditioned squad car on max cool. I was not dressed in a 12-15 lb. structural turnout coat that is scientifically designed to seal you away from heat and moisture which conversely traps it inside even more.

 

Now, throw yourself out on a fire scene on a hot summer day in 90 degree ambient air temp, and then push you into a burning building. I would venture to say that the frequency and length of rehab needed will increase no less than 25% or more.

 

So let's just increase the heat factor, add some additional weight you have to carry as a load and think about the extra physical exertion it will cause.

 

I believe heat stroke and over-exertion are stress factors that would just contribute more towards the leading cause of firefighter deaths, cardiac arrest. This supposed solution may just end up killing more than it ever saves.

 

If AFG is all about increasing your safety it MUST devote its limited resources to the areas where the greatest need exists and greatest cost benefit will result. Unless we see Congress invest a significant amount of money back into AFG (which is unlikely), in my opinion you are going to see AFG awarding these out on, at best, a very, very limited basis.

 

Where are your department's highest needs and priorities?

 

There will not be a willy-nilly blanket policy of "ask and you shall receive here".

 

You are going to have to show need.

 

You are going to have to demonstrate that your firefighters have been properly trained in "tactical deployments" for AS/MCI.

 

You most definitely are not going to see a whole department get BPEs for every FF.

 

What to do for FY2014 AFG

 

There are still a lot of questions to be worked out here. My best advice is to sit back this first year, and watch and see where BPE funding lands on AFGs "priority matrix." See how they score at computer, how the peer panel is going to review the apps during this first year, and who actually gets funded—and for what.

 

Don't waste an opportunity here until you see what shakes out as a result this first year.

 

If you really feel the urgent need for the BPE, remember that the State Homeland Security Grant Program and Tribal Homeland Security Grant programs already allow such purchases as well. You may want to try there first, and stick to other priority items in your FY2014 AFG application.