By most standards, the Federal Emergency Management Agency''s (FEMA) one-year old assistance to firefighters grant program has been a huge success.
The program gives money to address a range of local fire department needs, including personal protective equipment for firefighters, fire prevention programs, emergency medical services and firefighting vehicles. After the events of Sept. 11 focused the nation''s attention on the heroism of firefighters and the need to prepare for future terrorist attacks, this is one government program that appears to be in the right place at the right time.
Last year FEMA gave away $100 million while receiving over $3 billion in requests. This year, the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), the FEMA agency that administers the grant program, will disburse $360 million to local fire departments across the country. The mission of USFA is to reduce life and economic losses due to fire and related emergencies through public education, training, technology and data research initiatives.
Applicants can apply online starting tomorrow by going to the USFA Web site, www.usfa.fema.gov/grants.
To learn more about this agency and the firefighters grant program, Occupational Hazards spoke with David Paulison, the head of USFA.
Paulison, who began his career as a rescue firefighter, rose through the ranks and has been chief of the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Dept. since 1992 until his appointment as U.S. Fire Administrator in December 2001.
OH: What are your goals for USFA?
Paulison: I have four goals. First is to reorganize the agency to make it more responsive to our customers, both internal and external.
Second, I want to reduce the number of deaths by fire in this country, currently around 4000 each year. A huge proportion of those who die are over 65 or under 14 and I want to cut these fatalities by 20 percent.
We lose one firefighter every third day in this country. That''s simply unacceptable. Most of these deaths are due to heart attacks and vehicle crashes, so they are quite preventable. My third goal is to bring these numbers down.
Finally, we need to develop a closer relationship between the fire community and the emergency management (EM) community. I think that''s extremely important. The EM community often lacks staff and they need to understand that if they work with fire departments they''ll have those people all year long. And fire chiefs need to understand what emergency responders do.
If these two groups work together, we''ll handle our disasters better.
OH: How does the firefighters grant program fit in with these goals?
Paulison: It fits in perfectly. Fire departments can apply for money in one of four different programs. One of those programs is firefighter safety, so this ties into my goal of reducing fatalities for these workers. Eligible activities here include: personal protective equipment, firefighting equipment, training, wellness and fitness.
The money we spend here can be very cost-effective. I just got a letter from a fire chief who won a $30,000 grant last year for turnout gear and self-contained breathing apparatus. Right after they got the gear they had a major fire in the downtown of their community. Without this gear they couldn''t have protected the adjoining structures - he felt they would have lost the whole downtown area.
So by spending $30,000 we saved millions in buildings and protected that local economy. Not only that, we protected those firefighters, because if I know firefighters, they would have tried to enter some of these burning buildings even without the right equipment.
OH: Were there any problems with the grant program last year?
Paulison: Well, aside from not having enough money, I''d say the biggest problem was the cumbersome grant application. We think we''ve corrected that this year by putting the application on our Web site, by simplifying the process, and by doing workshops around the country to help people learn how to apply. These workshops are very popular - they''re usually packed to the gills.
As I said, this year fire departments can apply for one grant in any of four programs. Besides firefighter safety we have fire prevention, emergency medical services, and firefighting vehicles.
OH: Do you have any advice for applicants?
Paulison: Yes I do. Write the grant as if you''re writing to firefighters, because they''re the ones who will be making the decisions, not federal officials. We''re bringing people in from around the country to assess the applications. Don''t write in legalese; write in the language of firefighters.
Final Note: The firefighter grant application period runs from March 1 until April 1. For general information go to the USFA home page at www.usfa.fema.gov. Specific information about the grant program and application workshops in your area can be found at www.usfa.fema.gov/grants.
(In order to help Occupationalhazards.com better serve the fire and rescue community, members of local fire departments and emergency responders are encouraged to send any comments they might have about this article to [email protected])
by James Nash