By Michael “the Grantmaster” Penzotti
Proper staffing levels help to minimize risks of firefighter injury and death and also enable us to best serve and protect our communities. This is what FEMA’s Staffing for Adequate Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program is all about. The program is designed to help put more front line firefighters on the job to help meet National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1720 or 1710 standards and preferably to be able to ensure that all first-arriving units are staffed with a minimum of four firefighters. The application period is from July 29, 2013 to August 30, 2013. There is $320,920,083 available, with portions of the money dedicated for career and volunteer services. The SAFER program is 100-percent funded and requires no financial input from the recipient.
The funding priorities for career departments listed in descending order are: the rehiring of laid off firefighters, retention of those in imminent layoff positions, filling positions vacated due to attrition, and, the lowest priority, hiring new firefighters. Interesting enough, in the rehiring category the firefighters could be laid off as far back as January 1, 2008 and still qualify for grant funding. Grant funds can only be used for salary and benefit costs and there are no salary limits. New hired positions must be maintained for 24 months and, unless there is extreme financial hardship, department staffing levels must stay the same throughout the 24-month grant period. There is no requirement to retain the funded positions or maintain any staffing levels at the completion of the 24-month grant period.
For volunteer departments and volunteer firefighter interest groups, funds can be used for the recruitment and/or retention of members. The highest funding priority is given to departments with a high rate of turnover and staffing levels significantly below NFPA standards. Recruitment and retention funds can be used for a wide range of activities that are detailed in the SAFER program guide. If justified, volunteer programs can be funded up to 48 months. Also, after they have passed a NFPA 1582-compliant physical, newly recruited members are eligible for SAFER funds to purchase personal protective equipment.
SAFER can also be applied for as a regional program. This would allow different mutual aid partners, municipalities, or larger groups to all benefit from one program. Additionally, a volunteer department can request funds to hire firefighters, and combination departments can apply for both recruitment and funds for hiring. Be careful, though–when mixed with other requests these options could necessitate two separate applications, one for each activity.
More information about the entire program can be found at the SAFER homepage: http://www.fema.gov/staffing-adequate-fire-emergency-response-grants
This year’s SAFER application also reflects the need to be System for Awards Management (SAM) registered. There is a question on the application regarding your status and a statement that you must be current in the SAM system to be eligible for a SAFER award. We were told at FDIC that this was an incremental step and that for the upcoming Assistance to Fire Fighters Program you will not be allowed to apply without SAM registration. I’ll have more data on SAM in my next column; if you need immediate help with SAM a good place to start is their homepage: https://www.sam.gov/portal/public/SAM/
Michael Penzotti is a volunteer firefighter with 30 years of field experience. He has held both administrative and line offices in his department. He has 19 years of technical writing experience in engineering and funding fields and is the owner of Grantmasters Inc. Grantmasters has secured over $11 million dollars in grant awards and enjoys a success rates typically four times the national average. For questions pertaining to this article Michael can be reached via his Web site at www.grantmastersinc.com