Edited Version of February 7, 2001 Transcript
EIIP Virtual Classroom Presentation

"Understanding the New Fire Grant Program"

Steve Austin
Congressional Fire Service Institute

Avagene Moore, Moderator
EIIP Coordinator

The original unedited transcript of the February 7, 2001 online Virtual Classroom presentation is available in the EIIP Virtual Library Archives (http://www.emforum.org/vlibrary/livechat.htm). The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each input were deleted but the content of questions and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers to participants’ questions are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.

[Opening / Introduction]

Avagene Moore: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Classroom! Today's discussion is on the new Fire Grant Program. This is an opportunity to get advance information on how to participate in this exciting new program.

Many of you online today know our special guest, Steve Austin. For those who don't, Steve is a long-time friend and supporter of the EIIP in his role as Fire Service Advisor to the Congressional Fire Service Institute (CFSI). CFSI is one of the Founding Partners of the EIIP.

Steve is a 30-year veteran of the State Farm Insurance Companies. He advises State Farm on matters impacting the Fire and Emergency Services. He is involved in national fire service issues as the Director of Governmental Relations for the International Association of Arson Investigators. He is also active in the NFPA, International Association of Fire Chiefs and the CFSI among others.

Please help me welcome Steve Austin as he shares his insight of the Fire Grant Program. I now turn the floor to you, Steve.


Steve Austin: Hello everyone, it is good to be back at the EIIP Virtual Forum. For those of you that do not know me, I am Steve Austin a long time member of the fire service. I spend a good deal of time involved in federal fire service issues. I am the Director of Governmental Relations for the International Association of Arson Investigators. I also serve as the Fire Service Advisor to the Congressional Fire Services Institute. I was also honored to Chair FEMA Director James Lee Witt's Blue Ribbon Panel. We reviewed the US Fire Administration and made recommendations for meaningful change.

The last time I was here I spoke about the difficulty in passing legislation to create a grant program for the fire service. Now, I am pleased to tell you that we have a program and it is funded!

My purpose today is to get folks ready to enter the competitive grant process. But first it is important to review why we were successful in getting the program and having it funded. In a word, "cooperation." Finally, the fire service was able to unite. We stayed united and convinced both the House and Senate and the White House that this was the right thing to do. It sounds easy but those of you that have been observers of the fire service know what a difficult victory it was. Otto Von Bismark, German Statesman, once said "No one should see sausages or laws being made." After going through this process I know what a perceptive man he was; this wasn't pretty. Without the Congressional Fire Services Caucus and Congressional Fire Service Institute it would not have happened. It proves we can work together. Now on to the program.

We have authorizing language that requires FEMA to administer a grant program primarily for local fire departments. There are no middlemen. The money will be paid direct from the Treasury to the fire department. No state agency is involved. This year $100 million was provided by Congress to fund the program and most of the money will be used to provide these direct grants to fire departments. While the Bill itself provides for 13 possible types of grants it is impossible to get the work done to get all this money out the door by September 30, the end of the Federal Fiscal year. After two intense meetings with USFA/FEMA leadership and staff, the national fire service organizations and the government identified six categories for the first year.

Six categories are:

1) Training

2) Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

3) Wellness and fitness programs

4) Fire fighting equipment, including communications gear

5) Firefighting apparatus, and.

6) Fire Prevention Programs.

A fire department may apply for a grant in any two categories. General rules as specified in the legislation require that the grants be evenly administered between career and Volunteer, based on the NFPA Published Fire Department abstract, 43% to full career fire department, 57% to volunteer and combination departments. A distribution between rural, suburban and urban departments is required. All grants are based on need. It is important that the money goes to who needs it the most. Misuse or the perception that this is a "pork barrel" project could very well endanger future appropriations. In essence, this is a fair program.

A detailed description of the program and rules will appear later this month in the Federal Registry. All the details will be spelled out then.

There are some things that departments can do now to get ready. First, decide how this grant could best serve your community. Think in terms of what the program will cost, there is a $750K cap on each grant. Get your ducks in a row now. Make your contacts and do your costing so that you can be ready when the application period opens in mid-spring, probably around May 1.

You won't need to process a lot of paper as the USFA is putting the application on line. There will be a Web site to help you and the application is being designed to be as easy as possible. There won't be a ton of paper work, and while you can submit your application on paper it is my opinion that on line is much, much better. Paper will only slow down the process.

If departments don't have access to a computer take the time now to get or make arrangements to use someone else's, perhaps some of the members of the Forum might want to make their systems available to the departments. It should be the goal of leadership to get the message about these important grants to every corner of the country. No fire department should be left out.

This first year there will probably be only a 1500 or so grants awarded to reach the $100M mark. That doesn't seem like many, but in the very short time we have to get the money out the door and on the street, to award this number is a monumental task. How we handle things will impact next year's money. Some departments will be justifiably disappointed. Not everyone is going to get a grant in the first round. If we do our job right we can convince Congress to extend and re-fund this program so everyone will get a chance to receive a grant. Well, that's the program in a nutshell.

I'll be happy to answer some questions keeping in mind that the finalization of the program is still work in progress until the specifics are published in the Register. All of us who worked on the guidelines agreed to promote the program but not to get into the nitty-gritty details until EVERYONE gets to see the rules at the same time in the Federal Registry. Back to you, Avagene.

[Audience Questions & Answers]

Avagene Moore: Thank you for the overview, Steve. I am sure this information will help those who are interested in applying for a grant. On behalf of the EIIP, Amy and I appreciate your time with us today. With your cooperation, we will have an orderly, meaningful exchange. We now invite your questions/comments.


Rick Tobin: Where can I find online a more detailed description of this process and program?

Steve Austin: USFA/FEMA Web Pages are the best place now. Soon there will be a special place on their site to access info.


Barry Andis: Will there be an online list or a published list of what the money can or cannot be spent on? Will there be a follow up to see that the money is spent?

Steve Austin: Good question, Barry. Yes, it will all be on line. Yes, this is Federal dollars and one should expect there will be oversight.


Steve Rauter: Can a mixed group (career & fulltime) of FD's apply for 1 grant? If so, how do you calculate the matching share; based on what population? Should they apply separately for the same project? $750 each or total for the group?

Steve Austin: Probably; these are details that are being worked out now and I don't have that specific answer. I suspect you are thinking about something like a county wide radio system.

Steve Rauter: This would be for regional dispatch project. This is an important planning process to know YOUR share. Please get back to us on that one.


Dave Donohue: The original legislation called for funding of $400 million but only $100 million was funded. Are there any arrangements made to appropriate the other $300 million?

Steve Austin: Steve, this is something that you will want to ask USFA after rules are published. Next year’s funding. The fire service groups and all of you must give this full attention. That is why we must get as many departments as possible to apply this year. We need to show Congress what this program means to the fire service.


Terry Hill: What criteria will be used to determine "need"?

Steve Austin: Again, this will be in the final details. Your fire department’s certification that you have a need will go along way. Remember, you will be asking for federal funds. We have suggested that we don't want fire departments to get bogged down in paper work.


Robert Evancho: How will you notify all eligible fire companies? PA had a Grant program in 2000. It was very successful.

Steve Austin: Robert, consider this part of the notification. All the fire service print media and the dot coms are assisting. The USFA Web page is a good place to look. We're counting on all of you to get the word out. To paraphrase President Bush "no fire department should be left behind."


Lloyd Colston: I am an Emergency Management Director. I feel I would not be able to write a fire service grant for an individual. Could the individual departments write grants for technology so more of them could benefit from the Internet and other resources? What should I do to help my fire departments, many of whom are rural and all-volunteer? Of course, I am sharing this with others in my county. I am assuming the IAEM list will be advised of the web site when it is published? For those who will be looking, the USFA web page is <http://www.usfa.fema.gov/>.

Steve Austin: Lloyd, we are working to make the grant as simple as possible so you departments won't need a grant writer to prepare. On the Internet thing, a requirement for the grant is that departments report to NIFRS. If they don't have the electronic capability to do that now they can use part of the money to get on line. Remember the thrust of these grants however are toward firefighter, HEALTH and SAFETY issues.

Gary Hawbaker: I know I'm out of turn but if you have a fairly large police department I'd suggest you ask them for help in the grant writing. They get grants just to get more grants.


Lisa Danner: How soon will the applications be available and what kind of time frame are we looking at for submittal and awarding of the grants?

Steve Austin: Again, all the details are not quite finished. Applications will be available on line toward April. The window is not large. Probably only 30 days. Maybe the month of May. We must have a strict timetable. If not FEMA/USFA will never be able to get the money out the door.


Cynthia Leighton: Communications interoperability is a critical need for fire departments. Will communications be evaluated as a critical need?

Steve Austin: Fire ground communications is an important part of scene safety. Many departments have interoperability problems. A grant may help solve this problem and improve safety. As far as having preference over other areas, I don't know.


Judy Bisetti: Will the grants be direct funded or will we have to spend money and get reimbursed?

Steve Austin: Good question, Judy. I don't have that answer. We'll count on USFA for that.


Shawn Herron: What about agencies that have what are considered fire duties, but aren't fire? (We do rescue only.)

Steve Austin: Shawn, It is my understanding that these are for fire departments only.


Doug Staas: When we talk about equal distribution, does this mean that the combination department that borders the volunteer dept will not be competitors. Will region / state / counties be a consideration in awarding funds? Thank you for your time today.

Steve Austin: Doug, the law talks about urban, rural, suburban distribution as well as career/volunteer. The grants are competitive. How you would compete with a larger neighbor, I just don't know. I would be more concerned with having my department's application reflect a solution to a problem your own fire district is experiencing.


Steve Rauter: How can we get meeting minutes from your open meetings, such as the Emitsburg conference, so we know where you are coming from as far as matching funds, competition, need, NFPA standards, competitive scoring, etc.?

Steve Austin: That is a question for the USFA. I assume so. This isn't a national security issue. I am confident all the rules will be published in the Federal Register and that the new grant office will be able to answer questions when they get up and running. Remember, USFA is charged with getting this money out the door and into the hands of the fire service. I am convinced they are very sincere in seeing that this is accomplished.


Rodney Slaughter: Who will evaluate the landslide of proposals coming in? Can you give a general overview of the evaluation criteria, and can state fire agencies apply?

Steve Austin: Can't talk about the evaluation criteria now. The evaluators will be experts assembled from the fire service. The major fire service organizations are assembling these panels now.


Isabel McCurdy: Is there any grant monies set aside for international programs? If not, partnerships an option?

Steve Austin: Isabel, these are fire department grants. They are focused to health and safety issues. There are no set asides.


Lloyd Colston: Will the $750K cap apply to each grant or each department?

Steve Austin: Lloyd, a department can apply in two categories. My understanding is the $750K cap applies to a department. Again, that is a good question for USFA when they complete their plans.

Lloyd Colston: Thank you for your time and answers.


Debra Lynch: 1500 grants possible this year. Even split 500/500/500 to rural/suburban/urban? Thanks for this opportunity.

Steve Austin: Debra, can't say for sure. I don't think they will be able to get that close. I know they will do everything possible to comply with the law.


Amy Sebring: Please note that USAF has a mailing list that they will use to pass along further information on this program when it is available. The link to subscribe is http://www.usfa.fema.gov/usfa/usfamail.htm and the link is also on today's background page. Steve, can folks write to you with further questions or would you suggest they wait for further announcements at this point?

Steve Austin: Further announcements are better, Amy. Folks need to read the published program. Then formulate questions. Now is the time to develop department ideas and justifications.


Terry Hill: What about the money for community organizations involved in fire safety? How do they apply? Thanks.

Steve Austin: Terry, very good question Those grants are outside the fire department process we worked on. They will be handled exclusively by USFA/FEMA. Separate rules will be published by USFA.

Final Comment:

Craig Sharman: People can also sign up for the NVFC's Legislative E-mail Update Service for future information about this grant and other issues effecting the fire service at <http://www.nvfc.org/updates.htm>.


Avagene Moore: We are way over time. Thank you so much for being with us today, Steve. Please stand by a moment while we take care of some announcements.

A text transcript of today's session will be posted later this afternoon --- you can access from the Transcripts link on our homepage. A reformatted transcript in both html and in Word will be available by Friday or Monday for download.

If you are not currently subscribed to get our program announcements, and would like to, please go to <http://mail.wces.net:81/guest/RemoteListSummary/EIIP>.

Amy, will you please tell us about next week's session and our Pledgers?

Amy Sebring: Thank you, Ava and thank you, Steve for an excellent job. A big welcome to all our first-timers and we invite you to come again!

First, we have TWO new Honor Roll members that fulfilled 12 months of pledges during January. Drum roll please . <Tim Murphy //bell and Don Hartley //bell >!! For the complete list of Honor Roll members so far, and more information about pledging, please see <http://www.emforum.org/eiip/pledge.htm>.

Next week in the Virtual Library, we are planning a session with a representative from the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. We are still working on setting that up, so stay tuned for further information. Back to you, Ava.

Avagene Moore: Thanks, Amy. Thanks to all our participants today. We will adjourn the session for now. Please help us thank Steve Austin for a fine presentation.