Guide to AFG: Describing Your Project

Editor's note: Following Monday's announcement of the application details for this year's AFG program, 'Getting Grants' columnist Jerry Brant will be outlining the ways you can make your application narrative even more competitive. Over the coming days, he'll be dissecting the AFG narrative process to give you some helpful suggestions and examples as you initiate development of your own application. In this first article, Jerry looks at the ingredients you can combine to compose an impressive project description. Also, check out parts two and three.

By Jerry Brant

Related Resources:
 FY2009 AFG program details announced
Guide to AFG: Explaining Financial Needs
AFG Application and Guidance Kit
At any given fire station over the next few weeks, there'll be members working feverishly to complete their department's 2009 AFG application. Unless you have been in this position you can't fully understand what they are going through. In some cases, the future of their department rests solely on the grant writer's ability to convince a government agency to give their organization thousands of dollars in funding.

The major challenge facing the grant writer is their ability to achieve this goal by comprehensively answering four questions posed by the agency, in no more than five typed pages.

Before we begin, you should read my first article, "Department Funding: Making Your Voice Heard," to fully understand these upcoming segments.

First, let's look at some important preliminary concerns. Your completed application will initially be screened by a computer. If it makes it through this process it is then assigned to a three-person Technical Evaluation Panel (TEPS).The panels consist of fire and EMS personnel from across the nation.

New panels convene each week to conduct the grant reviews. Each panel member independently reads your application and assigns it a score of up to 100. The scores of each application are then totaled and divided by three to arrive at your final score. All applications are then ranked starting with the highest score.

Because of the sheer volume of applications received, your narrative is probably in front of each panel member for no more than 15 minutes. If you are going to be successful, your narrative needs to be clear, complete and concise in addressing the application's four elements:

  • Project description and budget
  • Financial need
  • Cost/benefit
  • Effect on daily operations.

Let's begin by discussing what ingredients you can combine to compose an impressive project description. Start by stating who you are and where you're located.

Example: The applicant is the Fictitious Volunteer Fire Department (FVFD), providing fire and rescue services to the 7,000 residents of Fiction Borough and Pretend and Fabricated Townships in rural Pennsylvania.

Describe how large of an area you cover and how many calls you answer yearly. Has either of these statistics increased over the last few years? If so elaborate why. Next, give details on the name, location and type of critical infrastructure you protect and its local, regional or national significance. With each one, briefly discuss what would happen if it was damaged, and rendered inoperable. After that, turn to the service area profile that you have assembled and describe past, current and future trends for your first due coverage area.

Example: Census data shows that the population of Pretend and Fabricated Townships increased by 12 percent from the 1990 to 2000 census, while the population of Fiction Borough during that same period declined by 15 percent. Projections received from the County Planning Commission show that growth in these two townships is expected to continue and by 2020 their population will have increased by 20 percent. This growth is primarily due to increased employment opportunities at the soon to be opened P&F Township Business Park.

This immediately paints a picture in the reviewer's mind of your service area. Then describe the process used to undertake your department's annual risk analysis and start to integrate its findings into your narrative.

Example: One of the major concerns in the FVFDs 2009 risk analysis is the rapid rate of growth in Pretend and Fabricated Townships. Most of this development is occurring in sections that are eight to 10 miles from our station. In addition, these zones of the townships do not have a municipal water system with fire hydrants.

The snapshot that was in your reviewer's mind just got a lot more detailed. Begin to insert information collected from your alarm reports.

Example: An examination of our calls over the last three years to that section showed that it took an average of 19 minutes for our first crew to arrive on scene and an additional 4 minutes to have sufficient manpower to safely advance an interior attack.

Next, incorporate more data from your station profile to show why this is occurring.

Example: The primary reasons for this are the age and capabilities of FVFD's two engines: 1972 and 1989. The 1972 has only a 300 gallon water tank and only seats a driver and two passengers. It has a standard transmission and no seatbelts. Over the past three years, this engine has required major repair work including a new transmission, electrical problems and a pump rebuild. The total cost was $23,000.

You have successfully described your problem: a growing rural area without fire hydrants and an engine that doesn't offer you safe fireground operations. Your narrative should continue to describe what has happened because of this situation and what standards your department is not meeting.

Now, let the reviewer know:

  • Your solution to the problem you have identified
  • What specific standards you will meet
  • Any training that will be required
  • Total price with a cost breakdown for the project.

Example: The FVFD has determined that the most innovative solution to our identified risk is to purchase a new engine, with a seven-man cab, a 750 gallon tank and a compressed air foam system. This new engine will cost $396,000 and will put our department into compliance with NFPA standards.

This section should explain why this is the best solution and how it will positively affect firefighter safety and be beneficial to the communities you serve. If you are asking for a vehicle, remember to include a section on driver's training and a reference to your department's SOGs for responding to alarms.

This is a very condensed version of what your project description should look like. The best idea to keep in mind is to answer those old journalism questions in detail. Who are you? Where are you located? What is your risk? How did you determine this? What is your solution? What specific standards will be met and how much will this cost?

The next article in this series will discuss the financial need element of the AFG narrative. Good luck!

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