Conference and Education Grants

Mandy George explains how fire departments can tap local grant sources to fund high-quality, low-cost training for their firefighters.

By Mandy George

Photos by Lisa Brandt

Not many people associate conferences with grant funding. The  grants most people think of like SAFER and Assistance to Firefighter grants are used for the purchase of large items, apparatus, and even to assist with employee staffing challenges. However, there are grants specifically aimed for educational development of fire service members and communities. These can be found at the state or local level. One of these grants is called the Conference and Education Assistance Grant through the Virginia Department of Fire Programs (VDFP). This article will explain what the VDFP Conference and Education Grant is and how the Chesapeake (VA) Fire Department used this grant as a funding source for their first fire training conference. While this particular article focuses on Virginia and the City of Chesapeake, the process that was followed can be used by fire departments across the country to secure similar funding sources for conferences and educational training in their jurisdictions.

VDFP Conference and Education Assistance Grant

The VDFP provides annual assistance in the form of a grant to agencies and non-profit organizations in Virginia for seminars and conferences that increase the education of fire service personnel throughout the state. This program has been set up through state code and all of the conference and educational programs must be approved by the executive director of the Virginia Department of Fire Programs or their designee.

The grant application period opens every year on July 1 and funding is subject to availability. While some grants have extremely strict guidelines about what is and is not acceptable, the VDFP Conference and Education Grant has only guidelines:

  • The organization requesting the grant must be a non-profit or government agency representing the interests of the fire community.
  • No discrimination by the applicant or governing agency will be tolerated.
  • The conference is strongly encouraged to be held within the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
  • Participation form outside organizations or individuals is allowed.
  • The training and needs must align with the mission and needs of Virginia’s fire service community.

The flexibility and openminded nature of these guidelines allows for a great deal of creativity in creating a grant application. Master Firefighter Paramedic Lisa Brandt took advantage of this opportunity when she created the application for the Chesapeake Fire Department (CFD). She was assisted in her efforts by CFD Grant Manager Brandy Hamilton. Their application was approved and the CFD was awarded funding to support the Coastal Virginia Fire Conference. This conference incorporated much needed hands-on (HOT) training from area experts as well as a two-day lecture series from renowned Fire Chief John Salka. It was also the first fire conference the CFD had ever hosted.

Coastal Virginia Fire Conference

Early on in the conference planning, it was decided that hands-on training would be the focus of the event. This required two important elements: lining up and coordinating the classes and pre-registering the students so liability issues could be addressed. It was also important to advertise for this conference to encourage participation from other localities. This was done predominately through social media.

The HOT classes filled up fast and were a big hit (see the pictures). They were truly representative of the creativity and skill the tidewater area has to offer in the fire service community. It was important to the conference planners to showcase these excellent training resources available in the area by making the instruction available at a very low cost. The grant enabled this level of instruction to be delivered.

The HOT classes for the two-day conference included the following: “Water Supply for Large-Scale Fires” from Water Thieves, LLC; “Advanced Extrication: Heavy and Passenger Vehicle” from Interstate Rescue; “The Irons Academy” from Real Fire Training, LLC; and “Engine Company Operations” by Hornet Fire Training. These classes were held at three separate locations that required their own logistical support. A fourth location was made available for the two-day lecture series by Fire Chief John Salka. He presented on “Fireground Responsibility,” “Three Degrees of Mayday,” and “Five Alarm Leadership.” Information from Chief Salka’s lectures added perspective and wisdom that balanced out the task-based focus of the HOT classes.

Future Conference and Education Plans

Overall, the first-ever Coastal Virginia Fire Conference was a success. The CFD is always looking ahead and has plans to host a diversity and equity conference in the near future. Perhaps the VDFP will assist in funding that educational experience for the fire service community as well. If your department is interested in hosting conferences and community education, check out your state department of fire programs. It could also be beneficial to look into the Firehouse Subs grant program. They support educational opportunities as well as equipment purchases. Private foundations and corporate sponsors can also assist you in your conference and educational goals with the approval of your agency administration.

Mandy George

Mandy George is a lieutenant in the Chesapeake (VA) Fire Department. She is a training officer who works with a strong team to facilitate the training needs of a 500-member department of sworn and civilian personnel. She has a master’s degree in emergency and disaster management, a master’s degree in professional writing, and an associate’s degree in emergency medical services. She is also a Nationally Registered Paramedic (NRP).


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