A little known fact about firefighters in the United States is that around 70% of those that protect us when fire breaks out are volunteers. While the term volunteer does not necessarily mean that they are unpaid, most receive little or no compensation for their part-time duties. Volunteer departments and companies mostly function in rural environments, serving their own communities where it is impossible to staff a full-time fire department. They are the front line of protection for local fire and disaster response. The valuable service they provide would not be possible without the support of federal and private grants that assist volunteer fire departments with funding. Here are a few of the grants that support this important work.
US Forest Service Volunteer Fire Assistance Program
This program provides funding to volunteer departments that serve communities with populations of 10,000 residents or less through this federal program. This is by design to accomplish distribution of this funding to the most needy fire departments. The Forest Service estimates that the initial response to 80% of wildfires is handled by these rural volunteers. Funding available under the VFA Program is distributed to states, where local departments can apply for funding through their state agencies. Here are a few examples of how each program is handled state to state.
New York Department of Environmental Conservation
In New York, the VFA Program is handled by the Department of Environmental Conservation. It receives an annual federal appropriation of around $360,000 and distributes this to local departments on a matching funds basis. Funding can be used to purchase fire fighting equipment but each local department must self-fund half the cost of each purchase.
South Carolina Forestry Commission
The State of South Carolina also distributes VFA funding through a matching grants process. Rural departments can apply for assistance to offset costs of purchasing necessary equipment. Special consideration is given to departments making their first request, to those that need funding to purchase communications devices or to departments struggling to purchase equipment to replace gear loaned to them by federal or state agencies.
Texas A&M Forest Service
This state program provides $12.8 million in funding to Texas volunteer firefighters every year. Funding can be used to obtain firefighting vehicles and other much-needed fire and rescue equipment. Funding can also be used to provide training and certification for rural firefighters.
There is at least some amount of resources available to volunteer fire departments through private and corporate support. One example is this corporate grant program that provides funding to volunteer fire departments to implement local fire safety programs.
State Farm Good Neighbor Citizenship Company Grants
One of the six types of eligible organizations listed by State Farm for its Good Neighbor Citizenship grants are volunteer fire departments. This funding is available to volunteer fire companies located within the United States and Canada who hold 501c4 tax exempt status. State Farm offers this grant on a yearly basis, with applications accepted in the fall from early September to the end of October. The program has two areas of focus which are safety and education. If you are interested in applying for the grant for your volunteer fire department, take note of the requirements and funding information listed under safety grants.
Fire Department Grants
In addition to grants that only support volunteer companies, we have provided more grants that support fire departments in an article on fire department grants. These grants vary from federal support to funding provided by private foundations. There is even an equipment grant program offered by a chain of sub restaurants founded by former firefighters. If you are searching for additional support for your firehouse, check out these extra sources of grant support for your local fire station.