With construction bills often surpassing $1 million, new fire stations make for expensive investments for towns and cities as they tighten their financial belts. While many communities use property taxes and other standard sources of revenue to pay for the facilities, that can be avoided by using federal grant funding. The U.S. Fire Administration oversees several grant programs for fire departments, one of which can pay for stations, but other agencies also offer funding that intends to help build community facilities, including fire facilities.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), through the U.S. Fire Administration, awards Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG) as a way to help fire departments reduce their response times and improve their quality overall. FEMA has a portion of the AFGs set specifically for new fire station construction or renovating existing facilities. Station Construction Grants in 2009 ranged between about $1.6 million and the average award was about $1.9 million per recipient, but awards can be as high as $15 million. Other AFG funding can pay for equipment, training and other basic expenses. FEMA offers two other grants for fire departments: Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants and Fire Protection and Safety Grants.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Community Facilities Grant Program can help fire departments in rural communities build new stations. The grants, which the office of Rural Development administers, can pay for public safety buildings, such as fire stations, among other types of facilities that a community’s residents benefit from. In order to be eligible for the grants, applying government officials must have 20,000 people or fewer in their towns or cities. Communities with 5,000 people or fewer receive top priority for the grants. Applicants must also be low-income communities, as defined by the USDA. The grants can pay for up to 75 percent of a building project’s costs.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) uses Community Development Block Grants for helping low-income communities improve. Along with helping to pay for public housing, economic growth or infrastructure construction, the grants can go toward public safety facilities, including fire stations. The department breaks down recipients into two categories: entitlement communities and non-entitlement communities. Entitlement communities, which are metros areas with at least 50,000 people or metro counties with 200,000 or more, can receive block grants directly from HUD. The department awards grants to non-entitlement communities through state or Native American tribal governments. The grants last one, two or three years. At least 70 percent of the money must benefit low- or moderate-income people.
Fire departments can begin searching for grants to pay for new stations by going through local or state government representatives who can put them in contact with those at the federal level. The federal government also has a website, Grants.gov, which contains solicitations and applications for many grant programs. Many government grants require applicants to go through the Internet database. There are also independent websites, such as Federal Grants Wire, that contain information about grant programs.