The Fund Finder News, by Kurt Bradley, Senior Grants Consultant, First Responder Grants
Firefighter jobs: The need is there—but do you have the funding to bring on the personnel?
NFPA 1710 and NFPA 1720 lay out guidelines for staffing levels for fire departments to maintain proper fireground safety during responses to structure fires. For example, if you’re responding to a structure fire at a 2,000 square foot, two-story, single-family home, here’s the staffing NFPA says you should have:
- In an urban area (>1,000 people/square mile), at least 15 staff should respond within 9 minutes, 90% of the time
- In a suburban area (500–1,000 people/square mile), at least 10 staff should respond within 10 minutes, 80% of the time
- In a rural area (<500 people/square mile), at least 6 staff should respond within 14 minutes, 80% of the time
- In a remote area (travel distance greater than 8 miles), at least 4 staff should respond, 90% of the time
Are you now looking around the fire hall and thinking, “Well that’s nice, but where am I going get the people to fill those boots?”
The SAFER way to staff fire jobs
Every year, fire service organizations around the country recruit and hire personnel. That’s not because they all suddenly discovered gold in the back of the bunker gear lockers either. It’s because they received SAFER grants, ranging from a few thousand dollars, to millions of dollars in direct grant funding to the department.
Administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the annual Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grants make it possible for fire service organizations, like yours, to add personnel.
Before you apply for a SAFER grant
The SAFER program accepts applications once a year. In the meantime, that gives you ample opportunity to get ready for when the gates open.
Career, volunteer, and combination departments will all have to take different approaches in their grant application and narrative. (If you want to know more, you can contact one of our Senior Grant Consultants for advice.)
If you don’t have the numbers, you have the need
Take these early steps to figure out if you might be able to make a case for adding firefighter jobs with SAFER grant funding.
- Examine your current personnel levels and past personnel levels year to year.
- Review NFPA 1710 and/or NFPA 1720: Are your staffing levels in compliance?
- Analyze your call logs for the past three years. How many times have you had insufficient numbers of personnel responding to an incident?
Having adequate personnel decreases the time it takes to respond to an incident and get a fire under control, which also decreases the chance of harm to firefighters and the public you are supposed to be protecting.
If you don’t have the numbers, you have the need. Now you can build your case for why your department should receive a SAFER grant.
Make sure your SAFER grant application includes…
Remember, your grant application isn’t you asking for a handout. Your SAFER grant application’s job is to paint a picture of why your department is in need, and to offer a solution to the problem you’ve outlined. SAFER funding is just to help you carry the ball into the end zone.
When working on your SAFER grant, any solution you offer must:
- Result in compliance with NFPA1710/1720 at least 85% of the time
- Reflect that you reviewed records for the past three years
- Determine how many times your department did not comply and what that percentage is
The lower the compliance rate, the better chance you have to get funded. Again though, remember that your solution must gain your department NFPA 1710/1720 compliance at least 85% of the time.
Keeping those jobs after SAFER funding is essential
SAFER isn’t a permanent solution to your staffing levels though. The intent of the program is to help get your department to better staffing levels. It’s your department’s responsibility to keep those jobs going after the SAFER funding period.
As part of your application, detail out how your department will continue funding these new firefighter jobs beyond the SAFER grant’s funding timeframe. You need to offer a sound sustainability plan, such as funds coming from:
- Bonds retiring
- Tax abatements from lured industrial facilities or new developments expiring
- Attrition through retirement
- Measured economic growth
- Completion of projects that are already underway that will yield tax revenue upon completion. This cannot be “maybe projects,” though. Work must be underway, with a completion date prior to the grant performance period ending, in order for this to be considered a viable source of revenue to a proposed sustainability plan.
Better staffing and improved incident response
SAFER is a competitive program. But for a department that can demonstrate need and show a path forward beyond the SAFER grant, odds are decent that you just might be filling some more fire boots, complying with NFPA staffing guidelines, and improving your overall department safety and incident response.
If you wish to start considering a SAFER grant for your department for hiring firefighters, it would be beneficial for you to read the Notice of Funding Opportunity for last year’s SAFER grant. Typically the rules don’t change much from year to year.
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