It’s Time to get SAFER!

SAFER LogoThis article is one in a series of toolkits focusing on recruitment, retention, fire service marketing and leadership.


Are you SAFER than you were last year?

That is, did you submit a grant application under the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) “Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response” program for recruitment and retention?

If you didn’t, you missed out on a great opportunity to better your fire department, or in our case, the entire volunteer fire service in our region.

Here’s the good news. You get another chance. DHS just announced that the application period for the 2009 SAFER grants opens November 16, 2009.

The deadline for filing completed applications will be December 18, 2009 at 5:00 p.m. EST.  As in previous years, the automated applications will be accessible from the Web site for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program at


The FY2009 SAFER program has approximately $210 million available for grants and the program guidance will hopefully be posted in the near future on the program’s Web site.

Last year I helped secure almost $1 million dollars in SAFER grants for local fire departments including a whopping $498,800 to fund recruitment efforts for our county chiefs association over the next two years.

The goal of our grant was to create the tools and resources necessary to make our fire departments successful in the fight for the volunteer fire service to survive and succeed.

It’s our estimation that there are two kinds of fire departments in our county: those who are experiencing an R&R problem – and those who are about to.

Thus, it only makes sense that a SAFER grant application be submitted that has a regional impact rather than multiple individual grants that create the environment for duplication and redundancy and inconsistent messaging. A county-based recruitment program promotes a unified front to the public, government, and the business community.


If this year’s guidance is anything like last year’s, as you navigate the SAFER guidance document it clearly identified volunteer memberships with high turnover rates and high call volumes and populations served as grant priorities.

Having a recruitment plan that includes a coordinator and a solid marketing program; and projects that offer continuity and sustainability have a better chance of being successful. Projects that have a regional impact in lieu of a one dog–one bone like application improve your odds of winning.

The greatest thing about the SAFER grant is the flexibility in the allowable expenditures, which have included: Reimbursement for attending required basic training; marketing costs for recruiting; physical examinations; explorer and/or mentoring programs; staffing needs assessment; disability insurance; tuition assistance; length of service awards and other retirement benefits; and costs for administering the grant program respectively.

The guidance also spells out what’s not allowable. Historically cash awards for participation in activities other than those directly linked to operational services (responding to incidents, attending training, providing operational stand-by services) are not allowed.

It’s my belief that retention benefits = recruitment benefits. Inasmuch as different people join for different reasons, they stay committed for different reasons too.

Just as all emergencies start and end locally; so do the specific recruitment and retention challenges and applicable solutions of any given volunteer fire department. They need to be addressed accordingly.


One big challenge lies in the fact that the performance period for this grant is just four years.

Ultimately, SAFER Grants should be used as “seed funding” to reach the level of success that will serve as the justification for local funding in the years following the end of the grant performance period.


If you don’t apply this year, don’t worry. Providing the federal government sticks to its promise to fund the program – there’s always next year.

Personally, I’m not a betting man but given our current economic climate, I wouldn’t wait. I strongly encourage you to take advantage of this “free money” program to perpetuate the volunteer fire service in America.

I’ll ask again: Are you SAFER? If you file an application this year or have done so in the past, I’d love to hear about it. Maybe we can feature your fire department in a future success story. If not, will you be SAFER next year? Start planning now for tomorrow’s success.

For a comprehensive offering of R&R resources, visit my blog at Click or call if you’re looking for ideas or want to volunteer your own. I’d love to hear your experiences.

Let me know how I can help.

Until next time… “Stay safe. Train often.”


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