Doing Your Homework

Grant writing is not just a once-a-year chore

CarolinaFireJournal - Jerry Brant
Jerry Brant
10/14/2010 -

In 2009 the Department of Homeland Security received slightly over 21,000 applications for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program. They funded approximately 9,000 of those. In 2009 only one in eight applications received under the Vehicle Acquisition category was funded. In 2010 the funding available for the AFG program has decreased by over $100 million. This makes the program even more competitive than it has been in the past. But there is hope if your AFG application is not approved or you want to save your AFG for other department needs. There are a number of other options available to you.


Before I get into other funding possibilities for your department, you need to realize that grant writing is not just a once-a-year chore. If your department is going to be successful securing funding from outside sources, then your department needs to look at grant writing as a year round activity.

Determine needs

The first part of this activity is to conduct an analysis of your department to determine your needs. You can begin this process by creating a profile of your first due area, your apparatus and equipment, your staffing and your station building.

The profile of your first due area should include a demographic snapshot that encompasses population figures from the US Census Bureau, as well as data on household income, poverty and the median value of housing in your area. Next you should check with local planning officials to see if they have any projections for population and other development indicators for your area. Examine your call data for the past three years to see if there are any trends developing in your responses.

At this point you should have a good idea of what has been happening in your coverage area, projections for future growth and development and the type and location of calls that your department has been answering.

Next look at your apparatus and equipment. Keep records of any testing that is done on your apparatus and equipment. Such as annual pump test, hose testing results, SCBA test and other similar data. Also note any repairs that you have made and their costs.

Examine staffing needs

Look at your staffing levels. Do you have enough firefighters answering your alarms to comply with either NFPA Standard 1710 or 1720? Are there certain times of the day that your response time and staffing levels meet the standard but other times that they don’t?

Finally, it’s time to give your station the once over from top to bottom. Does your station have areas that are in need of repair — a leaking roof, outdated windows or an insufficient electrical system? Also, does your station need upgrades in order to meet today’s standards, such as a vehicle exhaust system, a fire and CO detection and alerting system or a vehicle exhaust elimination system? If so, then all of this information should be detailed in your profile.

At this point in time you should have a good idea of your department’s needs and the documentation to back up your request to funding agencies. Your profile should become the backbone of your application and should be cited in all requests.

For example: As a result of our annual assessment, we found that our department has had a 35 percent increase in structure fire responses over the past three years. In addition, we found that 60 percent of these calls were to areas that lack a municipal water system with hydrants.

You have immediately placed an image in the mind of the grant reviewer of your department, and you have backed it up with hard facts, not just with words.

Community Facility Programs

One such program that you can use your profile to develop an application for, is the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Community Facilities Program. Through this program, USDA has provided assistance to rural communities and services, including fire and EMS for the past three decades. The program actually has four different funding categories offering grants, low interest loans, grant and loan combinations and loan guarantees.

Community Facility Programs provide financial assistance in the development of essential community facilities in rural areas and towns of up to 20,000 in population. Grants are authorized on a graduated scale and are usually combined with a community facilities loan or loan guarantee. Applicants located in small communities with low populations and low incomes will receive a higher percentage of grants. Community Facility Program assistance is available to public entities such as municipalities, counties, and special-purpose districts, as well as non-profit corporations and tribal governments. In addition, applicants must have the legal authority necessary for construction, operation, and maintenance of the proposed facility and also be unable to obtain needed funds from commercial sources at reasonable rates and terms.

 Through the Community Facilities Program, fire and EMS departments can purchase vehicles and equipment that are needed to provide essential community services such as:

  • Fire apparatus and equipment
  • EMS vehicles and computers
  • Other office equipment

In addition, Community Facilities funds can also be used to construct new stations or to renovate existing stations to bring them up to meet today’s standards.

The application process for USDA funding can become tedious and at times appear overwhelming if you let it. This is especially true if you are applying for funds to renovate or construct a new facility.

Begin the process by contacting your regional USDA office. The regional office can tell you if you are qualified for assistance from USDA and if your proposed project meets the program eligibility guidelines.

At this point, if you and your project meet eligibility guidelines, then you can request an application. Some of the information that you can already be assembling before you receive the application are your department’s legal papers such as by-laws, articles of incorporation or charter, and your 501(c) (3) determination letter from the Internal Revenue Service. You will also need three to five years of your department’s annual financial statements and a statement of current assets and balances. In addition you should have at least one price estimate on vendor letterhead and a photo or drawing of the item you wish to purchase. Remember, USDA will request an original and one copy for their application and I highly suggest that you keep a copy for your records.

 USDA regional offices take applications through September 30 for each fiscal year. You can find out more information on this initiative by contacting your regional office of USDA or going to

Good luck and in the next issue I will focus on the Community Development Block Grant program and its use by fire and EMS departments.

Jerry Brant has over 40 years of experience as a volunteer fire fighter in rural west central Pennsylvania. For 20 years Brant was employed as the executive director and then president of a small non-profit community development corporation. During this period he successfully wrote over $52 million in grant applications and proposals. In 2008 Mr. Brant “retired” from his employment to form Decoplan Associates LLC.a firm specializing in grant writing, strategic planning and project development. For more information, e-mail [email protected] or call 814-381-8317.

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