How to Identify (and Win) Fire Department Grants
Fire departments, especially volunteer fire departments, are constantly faced with the challenge of keeping communities safe while staying within budget. Tightening budgets and limited resources require departments to be more creative and resourceful in meeting needs, and grants are a helpful way to do just that.
Grants for fire departments can provide financial assistance to cover a wide range of needs, such as additional training, new equipment, updated software, additional hires, Community Risk Reduction (CRR) programs, and more. While the grant application process can be competitive and challenging, a few tips can help your grant application stand out and secure the funding you need to help your department and community.
How to Identify and Acquire Fire Department Grants
It can seem daunting to start searching and applying for fire grants, but the good news is that following a few simple steps will help you share your fire storyand make your application more competitive. Follow these steps to prepare and execute a great fire grant application.
1. Define your fire department’s goals.
Before you start your search for potential grants, start by defining what problem you would like to solve in your community. Choose one top challenge and ask yourself questions like:
- What is the top problem faced by our department, specific to our community?
- What would be the benefit to the community if this problem is solved?
- How would funding help solve this problem?
- Will there be a negative impact if the problem is not solved?
- What is the budget needed to address this problem?
Create a list of equipment, training, and anything else that you will need to execute the project, along with the anticipated cost of each item. Creating a budget before you start applying for grants will give you a realistic idea of how much the project or initiative will cost, which will act as a filter as you search for grants.
As you work on your problem statement, start collecting supporting data points, like the number of incidents a year/quarter/month relating to this problem. Look for trends or concrete data like hours spent, mileage, cost, etc.
Numbers talk and not only help you identify a problem, but also set benchmarks for improvements and realistic plans. You can also compare your department’s stats on top issues with peers from across the U.S. using the ESO Fire Service Index.
2. Identify the right grant.
You know there are numerous fire grants out there, but where do you start looking for one that might fit your department? You can start with these reputable sources to see what is available to fit your needs and demographics.
- Rural Fire Department Grants
This guide from the USDA covers planning resources, funding and program assistance, training resources, and more to help rural fire departments find available grants and financial aid specific to their needs.
- FEMA Grants
FEMA offers several grants through their Assistance to Firefighters Grants program. These grants cover everything from recruitment and retention to health and safety studies and equipment.
- Gary Sinise Foundation
The Gary Sinise Foundation offers grants for equipment, training, and mobility devices for those first responders injured on the job. This source includes a focus on rural/volunteer fire departments.
Grants typically have specific application requirements and are usually available for a particular area of focus, such as safety, education, or the environment. The application process can be time-consuming, so doing your homework before applying can make sure you’re making the most of your resources. Additionally, you give your fire department the best chance of securing a grant by ensuring your needs or project goals align with the grant’s specifications and requirements.
3. Review application requirements.
Once you have chosen the right grant, carefully review the application requirements. Pay special attention to the timeline (many grants only open applications once a year). Carefully follow instructions, as some organizations reject grant applications if instructions are not completely followed.
Everything you need to know about the grant you are applying for should be in the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO). Thoroughly explore and review to ensure you’re not missing even the smallest detail.
Determine if there are any other requirements that your fire department needs to fulfill as part of the grant application process. For example, federal grants may require additional steps when applying for a grant. Some organizations like FEMA host events or webinars to learn more about specific grants; don’t miss the chance to clarify and question the details, ensuring your application is complete and competitive.
4. Gather resources to help justify your fire department’s need for the grant.
Think about what data points help align your stats and goals with the grant’s priorities. Review the required components of the grant application and collect any relevant documentation or data, specific to your department. Grants often require reporting for several months of operation, so keep that in mind as you are doing your research.
This is also where a robust Fire record management software (RMS)tool can be a huge help; data from your department over time can help identify trends that support the problem you are trying to solve with this grant. Look at your top incident calls, mileage, equipment usage and maintenance, and expenses.
All of these data points can help paint a picture of challenges and goals for your department. They also can help you set realistic goals and benchmarks for a plan of action that aligns with a grant’s purpose.
5. Get extra help.
There are some great resources available to help make your application more competitive and stand out from the rest. From free to paid, these resources cover best practices for grant applications to save you time in the long run and make your efforts more successful.
- ESO Insider’s Guide to a Successful Fire Grant Application
10 critical must-know tips from a veteran fire chief who has participated helped departments receive more than $4.5 million in grant funding in the last 5 years alone.
- Grant Writing for the Fire & Emergency Services
This class from the NVFC teaches you had to write grant narratives that speak to fire/EMS grants’ needs.
- 10 Steps to Writing a Grant Proposal
This article from IAFC offers ten ways you can plan out your grant application and proposal.
This site offers paid and free direct services – including hands-on writing assistance – to prepare grant applications.
Additionally, as you are fine-tuning your application, it doesn’t hurt to get a second set of eyes (or more) on your application to help ensure that it doesn’t get kicked back for being incomplete or including errors. Ask someone to review and proofread your application to make sure it is free of typos and avoidable mistakes, and that it is a cohesive document.
6. Submit and wait.
Once you have reviewed and proofread your application, it’s time to submit it to the organization. Decision time frames vary depending on the size of the organization, number of applications, and other factors, but typically grant applicants can expect to hear the final decision within a few months.
Be sure to save the data points and homework you’ve completed, as they often can be repurposed for additional grant applications. Always be on the lookout for new submission opportunities, and check in regularly on your benchmark metrics to ensure you’re ready for new opportunities that may arise.
After Submission: Next Steps
If your fire department is awarded a grant, congratulations! Make sure you carefully review the requirements of the grant to ensure that your fire department fulfills its obligations as a grant recipient. Some grants require regular reporting or updates, or other communications.
If your fire department is not awarded a grant, keep trying. Much of the information you gathered for the grant application may be able to be used for future grant applications.
You can also ask the organization offering the grant for feedback on your application so you can make improvements for the next submission. Continue to search for grants that will be a good fit for helping your fire department meet your goals and serve your community.
Data Makes the Difference
Having access to your organization’s data can not only position your fire department to earn grants, but it can also support operations and resource planning. ESO Fire RMS enables you to enter, manage, and track data efficiently so your fire department can focus on keeping your community safe and healthy.
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