NVFC urges FEMA to simplify AFG and SAFER grant applications

November 23, 2023

The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC), representing a significant portion of the United States’ volunteer fire, emergency medical services (EMS), and rescue services, has submitted a detailed comment to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requesting the simplification of the application processes for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grants.

The NVFC’s commentary sheds light on the complexities currently faced by volunteer and smaller fire departments in securing crucial funding.

The importance of volunteer fire services

The NVFC, a leading nonprofit association, advocates for the interests of volunteer fire, EMS, and rescue services, which account for 65% of the nation’s fire services.

These services, predominantly volunteer-based, play a critical role in protecting communities, particularly smaller ones.

The Council emphasizes that most volunteer firefighters serve in departments that protect fewer than 25,000 people, with about half of these firefighters serving in departments that protect fewer than 2,500 people.

Challenges faced by small and volunteer departments

The NVFC highlights the struggles faced by small and volunteer fire departments, particularly those in communities with limited tax bases.

These departments often rely on small-scale fundraisers for basic funding, which is insufficient for significant purchases like essential firefighting equipment or apparatus, which can cost upwards of $500,000.

The NVFC’s comments underscore the barriers these departments face in applying for federal grants due to the complexity of the process and the lack of dedicated grant-writing personnel or resources.

Recommendations for simplifying grant applications

The NVFC recommends several changes to make the AFG and SAFER grant processes more accessible to small and volunteer departments:

  1. Improved Communication: FEMA should increase efforts to ensure communications reach smaller and rural departments and consider more virtual Q&A sessions.
  2. Clarity in Application Requirements: More specific guidance on what is required in applications and why some are denied would aid smaller departments.
  3. Training and Support: Additional training tailored to the unique needs of small volunteer departments would be beneficial.
  4. Simplification of Compliance Requirements: Streamlining and providing more accessible guidance for compliance requirements would reduce the time burden on small departments.
  5. Micro-Grants Expansion: FEMA should consider expanding simplified grants for essential equipment to close the resource gap in the fire service.

NVFC’s Call for Focused Attention

The NVFC stresses the need for FEMA to focus more on small rural communities, which, despite their size, face significant risks of large-scale emergencies.

Proper equipment and response capabilities are crucial for these communities to address such incidents effectively.

FSJA Comment

The NVFC’s submission to FEMA highlights a critical issue in the realm of emergency services: the accessibility of federal grants to small and volunteer fire departments.

The current complexity of grant applications under AFG and SAFER poses significant challenges to these departments, which are often the most in need of federal assistance.

The NVFC’s recommendations, if implemented, could lead to a more equitable distribution of funds, ensuring that smaller communities have the necessary resources to maintain effective emergency response services.

Simplifying the application process and providing additional support and training could potentially save lives by ensuring that all fire departments, regardless of size, have access to essential equipment and staffing.

This move could also strengthen the nation’s overall emergency preparedness and response capability, particularly in rural areas that are often overlooked but face unique and significant risks.

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