AFG priority list: It’s time to address its shortcomings

‘High-priority’ PPE does not always include gear deemed obsolete and/or out of compliance with current standards


The 2020 Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) application has opened and will remain open until Feb. 12 at 5 p.m. ET.

I hope you have already read the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO). The NOFO will provide you with the information you will need to file a competitive application for this year’s funding. The NOFO also details the grant program’s objectives and priorities.

Has AFG lost sight of its objectives?

The CDP is charged with making recommendations to FEMA regarding the creation or modification of previously established funding priorities as well as developing criteria for awarding grants. (Photo/Getty Images)
The CDP is charged with making recommendations to FEMA regarding the creation or modification of previously established funding priorities as well as developing criteria for awarding grants. (Photo/Getty Images) (Photo/Getty Images)

On page 2 of the NOFO, it states, “The objectives of the AFG Program are to provide critically needed resources that equip and train emergency personnel to recognized standards, enhance operational efficiencies, foster interoperability, and support community resilience.”

That’s an outstanding goal, but I feel that in recent years, FEMA has developed a set of priorities that contradicts those objectives. The most blatant example of this is the priorities that have been adopted for PPE.

In the PPE category, FEMA places the highest priority on awarding PPE to applicants who show that their firefighters currently lack PPE. Don’t get me wrong, I completely agree with this. If you are answering alarms in your Carhartt jacket and three-quarter boots, then you deserve to be at the top of the list.

The problem is, what if you have turnout gear that is 17 years old, the Velcro is coming loose, the reflective striping is coming off, there are burn holes in it, and the knee pads are falling off? Sounds like that firefighter – let’s call them Firefighter A – should also be at the top of the list to be awarded new gear. But under the 2020 NOFO, replacing Firefighter A’s gear is only a medium priority because Firefighter A is still wearing it to answer alarms.

Here’s the matrix that breaks down the definitions:

Priority Activity Definitions

  • High: Replace unusable/unrepairable PPE to meet current standard – Applies to PPE-Turnout Gear that is no longer usable because it is broken and/or damaged beyond repair. (This turnout gear is out of service and not being worn by emergency responders.)
  • High: Increase supply for new hires and/or existing firefighters that do not have one set of turnout gear (PPE) or allocated seated positions (SCBA) – Applies to PPE-Turnout Gear for new firefighters (i.e. new hires or volunteer recruits) and/or existing firefighters that do not currently have one set of PPE-Turnout Gear.
  • Medium: Replace noncompliant PPE to current standard – Applies to PPE-Turnout Gear that is deemed obsolete and/or is out of compliance with current standards for PPE-Turnout Gear. PPE Turnout Gear to be replaced, it has not been deemed inoperable, and while it may not be compliant with current standards it is not broken, damaged or otherwise unusable.

In a perfect world …

If fire department budgets were adequately funded, then I would agree that Firefighter A should have their gear pulled. However, we don’t live in that perfect world, and right now there are fire departments that can’t even pay their utility bills.

Fire departments that depend on fundraising activities have taken a drastic hit in revenue because COVID-19 restrictions have stopped them from having such events. Fire departments that receive tax revenue have also experienced a dramatic decline in revenue because of the pandemic.

Firefighters are answering alarms in turnout gear like that belonging to Firefighter A because it is all that their department has. If they pull Firefighter A’s gear, then there is one less person to answer an alarm. There is one less firefighter going on that mutual-aid call.

What are the objectives of AFG again? AFG is to provide critically needed resources that equip and train emergency personnel. It is to enhance operational efficiencies and it is to foster interoperability. By forcing departments to pull gear to get to a higher priority AFG is operating contrary to its objectives.

Who develops AFG priorities?

Funding priorities and programmatic criteria for evaluating AFG Program applications are established by FEMA based on the recommendations from the Criteria Development Panel (CDP). Each year, FEMA convenes a panel of fire service professionals to develop funding priorities for the AFG Program. Nine major fire service organizations are represented on the panel:

  • International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC)
  • International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF)
  • National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC)
  • National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
  • National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM)
  • International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI)
  • International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI)
  • North American Fire Training Directors
  • Congressional Fire Service Institute (CSFI)

The CDP is charged with making recommendations to FEMA regarding the creation or modification of previously established funding priorities as well as developing criteria for awarding grants.

A possible solution

Why not create a third high-priority category for unrepairable PPE that is still being used? The high priority categories could focus on the following:

  • High – Firefighters who do not have PPE
  • High – New recruits or new firefighters who do not have PPE
  • High – Firefighters with unrepairable PPE that is still being utilized
  • Medium – Firefighters with PPE that’s noncompliant to the current standard

If you like these priorities better, I encourage you to connect with representatives from the CDP.

Editor’s note: Do you agree with the proposed solution? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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