Funding For Volunteer Fire Departments

Township contracts

If the city has agreements (28E) with adjacent townships, these agreements should be reviewed annually. These agreements set out expectations from the townships and the city that is supplying the fire service. The agreement should be in writing and should include: the type of equipment, location, training and descriptions of other costs to be shared in providing an adequate fire and emergency medical service. This funding was created in the 1970s and has not been adjusted since that legislation was passed.

Federal and State Grants

The Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program is a competitive program sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to enhance a department’s ability to protect the public and fire service personnel from fire and related hazards. Four types of grants are available: Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG), Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants (SAFER), Fire Prevention and Safety Grants (FP&S) and the Assistance to Firefights Fire Station Construction Grants (SCG). This program also offers resources to help fire departments prepare and submit grant applications.

The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) has developed a manual Funding Alternatives for Fire and Emergency Services. The manual includes financing alternatives for all types of fire and EMS departments – rural and urban, volunteer and career, agencies providing multiple services and those providing only fire protection or only emergency medical service. Examples are given of departments using the various methodologies. The manual includes funding of local services by local government, state government, federal government and the private sector.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a number of grants and low interest loans aimed towards first responders. For facilities and equipment for communities up to 20,000 in population, grants and direct and guaranteed loan programs are available through Rural Development.

In addition to grant funding, some departments have been able to secure very good deals on surplus equipment from the state and federal government or from other departments. As with purchasing any used piece of equipment, the condition should be verified before negotiating a price.

Charges for Services

Some departments may conduct inspections or other services that generate permits and fees. These fees seldom cover the entire expense, but as part of the budget, should be monitored on a regular basis.

Donations and Fund Raisers

Donations and sponsorships for fire and EMS service projects are always strong. Each department, however, must be very careful not to violate the Iowa Gift Law when accepting donations or other items from vendors.

Many volunteer departments also conduct various fund raisers to bolster the support of the community toward the purchase of new or replacement equipment. These funding sources, like grants, are unpredictable for ongoing expenses. Like donations or any other asset given to the city, this fundraising activity falls under Code Section 384.20 and should be reflected in the budget or any amendments of the city.

Other 28E Opportunities

As budgets get tighter, more and more communities are looking for other ways to provide services and looking to your neighboring community may be beneficial. For years, adjacent fire departments have observed mutual aid agreements and shared in training exercises. With advances in communication, GIS and other technologies, perhaps other sharing opportunities are available. Section 28E of the Code allows and encourages such sharing of buildings, equipment and other resources.

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