Thousands of FEMA fire grants, too little time

Over 300 senior level firefighters spent four days this week holed up in a large meeting room west of Washington, DC. They were helping the Federal Emergency Management Agency review thousands of applications received from fire departments and EMS organizations for the Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants (SAFER).

Approximately 15,000 to 20,000 applications for AFG funding alone were submitted electronically. They were all reviewed and graded by computers using criteria developed by FEMA. Then the ones that made it through the basic screening were all printed and given to the firefighters for peer review. The computerized technical review and the peer review each make up half of the final score.

The 300 firefighters reviewing the AFG grants were organized into groups of six people at each table, and were given packets of six applications at a time. Every application was reviewed by three evaluators who read the 20 to 35 page document and then wrote by hand their analysis, addressing four categories on a 2-page form.  If the scores among the three evaluators varied too much, they had to discuss it, and either change their scores to come closer into alignment, or write a statement on the scoring form saying it was discussed and no changes were made. Every table of firefighters reviewed 36 to 60 applications each day.

The firefighters reviewing the SAFER grants may have had a different procedure.

The SAFER grants may have all been reviewed, but the firefighters handling the AFG grants worked from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for four days, Monday through Thursday, and at the end of the day on Thursday there was still a large pile of AFG applications pending.  The FEMA personnel asked for volunteers to work further into Thursday night, and may have even asked some to volunteer Friday morning before they had to get on the shuttle to the airport. It is unlikely that all of the applications got reviewed, and FEMA will have to come up with a plan to finish them, possibly bringing another group of firefighters to Washington.

This year, fiscal 2012, Congress provided $675 million for firefighter assistance, including $337.5 million for AFG and $337.5 million for SAFER. Started in 2001, the fire grant program reached a high in 2009 when it had $985 million to distribute, but the amount appropriated has been declining since then.

FEMA personnel at the grant review meeting estimated that there was enough money available to fund approximately 10 percent of the applications this year, so most departments are going to be disappointed. FEMA hopes to begin rolling out grant notifications to the lucky few in September, if they can get the rest of them reviewed soon.

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Follow-up on the IAFC and their federal grants

On April 30, 2010, we wrote a lengthy and well-researched article about the uncanny success the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) has enjoyed in receiving very large grants from the U. S. Forest Service and the Department of Homeland Security for issues related to wildland fire. This surprised us, since a very small percentage of the IAFC’s efforts are devoted to wildland fire. Today we wrote a follow-up to the article, and posted it below. The original complete article is HERE.

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For the past several months we have been hearing that the IAFC is extremely upset about the fact that the information in the article has been revealed. They are blindly throwing around accusations that various organizations leaked this data.

Just to set the record straight, we heard from one person that the IAFC had recently received one federal grant for several hundred thousand dollars for a wildland fire related issue. That’s all. And it turned out that the actual amount of the grant was far larger than we were told. All of the rest of the information came from the publicly available web sites listed above, plus spokespersons for the USFS and the IAFC. Every source, other than the original limited, vague, and partially correct original bit of information, is detailed and linked to in the article above. We did not file a Freedom of Information Act request with the U. S. Forest Service, nor did we see any of the results from the multiple FOIA’s that were filed with the USFS.

The fact that the IAFC is so hyper-sensitive about the information in our article becoming public, raises the question of — why are they so sensitive? To borrow a line from the Queen in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

If the IAFC has a totally clear conscience, the best advice would be transparency, rather than angrily accusing innocent bystanders of providing the information that is publicly available on the Internet.

The U.S. Forest Service could use the same advice. Why did it take Freedom of Information Act requests for them to provide some of the information about which organizations they are giving our taxpayer dollars to?

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More FEMA grants in Minnesota for home sprinklers

Some folks in Minnesota are very skilled at applying for FEMA grants. St. Louis County in Minnesota has received a grant for $1.1 million to help 126 private homeowners and business buy outdoor sprinkler systems to protect their property from wildfires. The program will cover 75 percent of the costs of installing the systems. 

As Wildfire Today reported on November 12, 2008, Cook County in Minnesota has already received $3 million in FEMA grants for sprinkler systems for homes and businesses. As we stated then, grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be used for something other than adding sprinklers to private property. 

 

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