Stimulating your department

2009 A.R.R.A. Fire station grant process update

CarolinaFireJournal - KEN NEWELL
10/18/2009 -

Did your Department apply for this grant? Were you successful? If not, will there be another opportunity next year?

In the last article we looked in depth at the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 which provided the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with $210,000,000 to fund the construction and modifications of fire stations. The program is administered by the Assistance to Firefighters Program Office under FEMA’s Grant Programs Directorate. The grants under this new program are being awarded directly to the fire departments on a competitive basis.


While it is too late to make your department’s grant application any more successful for 2009, the purpose of this article is to discuss what has been learned from this “first of its kind” opportunity. If the Fire Station Construction Grant is offered next year, this year’s unsuccessful applicants can learn much from the experience of the 2009 process. Much of the information found herein has been garnered from the grant announcements, Guidance and Application Kit, updates as distributed by DHS, and our firm’s experience with dozens of departments who received assistance from us in the application process. As with any federal program, details and requirements are subject to change. If the grant is offered again in the future, it is likely that some of the requirements and reviewing criteria will be modified.

Review synopsis

The grant’s major purposes were threefold:

  1. Address first responder safety, enhance response capabilities and/or expand mutual aid
  2. Provide economic stimulus in the form of jobs,
  3. Increase the safety of the firefighters and the communities they serve.

As discussed in the previous article, there were 10 or more requirements, or prerequisites, that had to be satisfied by every department in order to be considered for a grant award. There were over 20 evaluation categories that acted as individual “sliding scales” used to rank the applicant’s need and ability to satisfy the goals of the grant’s intent.


Key dates for the 2009 grant process

  • July 10, 2009: All grant applications were due.
  • July 13-20: All received applications were prescreened and ranked.
  • July 21-30: Peer Review process.
  • August 3: Technical Reviewers requested additional information.
  • August 8-21: Review of additionally provided information.
  • August 22-September 4+: Program Office review of recommended awards.
  • Mid-September 2009: Award Announcements to begin.

It is expected that these awards will be made and announced incrementally over a period of time after the selected grantees are notified and their ability to perform is confirmed. Award decisions are projected to be completed on or before September 30, 2010.


Success “probabilities”

DHS anticipated up to 10,000 grant applications representing over $30 billion in requests (an average of $3 million per request). They anticipated selecting approximately 200 applications as the most qualified to receive further technical review, as shown occurring on Aug. 3 in the above schedule. Approximately 100 grant applicants would be awarded the $210 million in available funds. These preliminary projections equated to an estimated one percent success rate.

The reported number of applications submitted by the July 10 deadline was 6,013 representing some $9 billion in requests (an average of $1.5 million per request). Since the average request was only one-half of that originally projected, it is currently not known how many applicants received requests for additional information on Aug. 3. Based on these averages, it is possible that 140+ awards will be made, compared to the previously projected 100 awards. If so, the success rate would be approximately 2.3 percent. Additional requested information While we have previously discussed the data required in the initial application submittal, the additionally requested information received by “shortlisted” applicants on Aug. 3 came as a surprise to most of them. The request came in email form to the designated contact person. Below is the portion of the email request that itemizes 16 items required for further evaluation:

  • Copy of the Request for Bids (including any legal notices published)
  • Copy of the list of bidders
  • Copy of the winning bid/ contract
  • Copy of the proposed construction schedule
  • Copy of the proposed payment schedule
  • Contact information for the local building inspection office
  • Copy of the proposed inspection schedule
  • Copy of building permit
  • Copy of the planning/ zoning approvals (if separate from the building permit)
  • GPS coordinates of the proposed building site
  • Picture of the proposed building site
  • Copy of the deed to the property (or other proof of ownership such as an affidavit from the assessor’s office)
  • Copy of the engineered/ architectural stamped drawings
  • Copy of any Environmental Assessments or Environmental Impact studies
  • Roster of firefighters with the level of training certification/proficiency You must also provide a detailed construction budget for your project. We will use the figures on this spreadsheet to determine eligibility and reasonableness of the proposed costs.

If any “shortlisted” applicant was able to provide all of the requested information, it indicates that they had been completely through the planning, design, bidding, and construction contract negotiation process. Talk about “shovelready”! It assumes that just before the building contractor started grading the site, that the capital budget was suddenly diverted to some more desperate need. While there may truly have been a handful of applicants in this condition, DHS is not foolish enough to believe that 100 plus departments were at this juncture. They simply wanted to see how many of these items existed for each of the shortlisted applicants. Departments that could provide most or all of this data, were likely pushed to the front of the line. Most applicants would only be able to satisfy a minimal number of these requests. So, what would have likely been the cost to a department to be able to provide all of these items to the technical reviewers? Generally speaking, the cost to answer “yes” to each of the above items for an average $2 million station would be in excess of $100,000 for pre-grant expenditures. This estimate does not include any necessary land acquisition. Conclusion At the end of the day the valuable lessons learned from this year’s AFG process is how to be better prepared if this rare opportunity occurs in the future. Soliciting as much help as possible during the grant writing phase will make the applicants chances of being successful much more likely. With so much competition for a very limited amount of resources, each submitted grant must be the best, most informative and thought out document possible. Whether your capital improvement plan includes applying for a similar grant or not, involving a design professional who specializes in public safety facilities will save your department large sums of money and untold headaches.


Ken Newell, AIA, LEED AP, NFPA, is a senior principal with Stewart Cooper Newell Architects, and has been involved with the design of over 135 Fire/EMS stations and fire training facilities since 1988. The firm’s growing resume includes architectural and consulting services for fire departments and municipalities in 22 states across the US. Newell also speaks at various national and state fire conferences. Newell can be reached by visiting or emailing [email protected] Stewart Cooper Newell Architects can be reached at 800-671-0621.
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