The COVID-19 Pandemic has created a whirlwind of uncertainties since it first broke out in America at the end of last winter in March. While many industries in the country were closed outright, our essential front-line workers did not have the option to wait out the storm-a storm which feels like it will never end. Still, the heroes in Law Enforcement, Medical, Fire & Emergency services had the unique challenge of maintaining the safety and efficiency of their own workforces while having to meet the virus head on in their interactions with the public. Cost is one of the greatest obstacles to maintaining effective operations in any year for Fire & EMS services, but COVID-19 has presented an unprecedented situation.
While the Federal Government supplements the funding of Fire & EMS services each year through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (AFG), competition for the additional funding means that there will always be those departments who are left without receiving critical aid. That is why it was so critically important for Fire Services when Congress passed the emergency CARES Act this year, which not only provided life saving emergency stimulus for individuals and businesses but created supplemental funding for the AFG program. Still after seven months, the need for PPE has not subsided and the demand is reaching across every segment of society. In short, our emergency services need more money.
For the first time in history, the Federal Government is opening its Assistance to Firefighters Grants Program – COVID-19 Supplemental (AFG-S) for a second round of funding! The second round of applications which launches in October will be focused on providing emergency funding awarded to combination professional/volunteer Fire Departments to provide desperately needed relief for the purchase of PPE and other supplies. According to FireRescue1.Com, AFG related grant programs always have built in award ceilings which puts a cap on the grants based on type of applicant. “Career fire departments, all categories of EMS agencies, and state fire academies met their ceiling under the original AFG-S program. However, combination and volunteer departments did not have a sufficient number of successful applications to exhaust all their previously obligated funding.” With a suspected second wave of COVID due to arrive this fall and winter, PPE and other related supplies will be the primary focus of these new grants.
The second round of stimulus opened to the combination volunteer/professional departments is prioritized under two tiers: the high priority applications will focus on the plethora of PPE that has become so essential in the COVID-19 era, followed by decontaminant products. Examples from this first group are a range of single use medical gear. These would include products like single use footwear covers, single use impermeable isolation gowns for patients, and disposable gloves. Additionally, this prioritized category of PPE would also include incredibly important respirators, such as the N95 or higher, protective eyewear, and the ever-essential supply of surgical style facemasks. Beyond these prioritized items are a list of important sanitation products such as personally issued hand sanitizer and antiseptics, High-Efficient Particulate Air Filters and other filtration supplies, and general decontamination supplies for station-quarters and vehicles.
Time is of the essence in applying for these additional grants if you are a qualifying department. Just as every round of grant funding is a highly competitive process, likewise will this process be geared towards those departments who can make the best case for their funding needs. FireRescue1 suggests making your application feel personal: “In your application, describe how COVID-19 has affected your area and your department’s ability to answer calls. Discuss your coverage area’s current financial situation. Include data, like the latest unemployment figures for your area. Also discuss budget cuts that your department may be experiencing.” Most communities in the country have been affected in some way by the virus, but local funding difficulties, lost tax revenues, and budget cuts are all unique to their particular community. Good luck to all that apply!
One of the greatest challenges facing Fire Services across the country is the looming threat of budget cuts. Firefighter and EMS Fund has launched a petition to stand up for those on the front lines in Fire Services in protest of political decisions which cost fire fighters their jobs and requiring them to work with fewer resources. Read more here.