Fire departments are taking on more responsibilities with each passing year. From emergency medical services (EMS) to natural disasters, hazardous materials incidents, and the large increase in wildfires, California fire departments in particular have a lot on their hands.
To make matters worse, government funding is stretched thin, so fire services organizations have had to do more with less. A lack of funding makes it difficult to provide adequate training and to prepare for larger challenges, like preparing their communities for the growing wildfire threat.
That’s why it’s so important that departments have access to the resources they need. Thankfully, there are quite a few grants and other funding options available to California fire departments if you know where to look.
Local Revenue Options for California Fire Departments
Some fire departments choose to run more like a business than a government organization, with the idea that the departments generate at least some of their own revenue. This mindset can do wonders for the long-term sustainability of a department and its programs. That’s why we wanted to start by reviewing some ways fire departments can grow funding locally, outside of raising taxes:
- User Fees and Utility Rates: Development impact fees are a common way to charge for public services, especially to charge the people or organizations getting the most benefit from the services. Similarly, some municipalities create enterprise funds, where organizations are expected to earn some revenue for their services.
- Fines and Citations: If members of the community (including businesses) are contributing to a higher fire risk or similar dangers, fines help recover costs while discouraging risky practices.
- Borrowing: When funds aren’t as available, consider taking out loans to purchase necessary equipment or facilities. This might include borrowing from a bank, or with a low-cost revenue bond from a nonprofit.
Many cities and counties in California also offer financial assistance to their local fire departments from State and Federal sources – check with your city or county government offices to see what might be available in your area.
For more details on different local funding alternatives, you can read this FEMA resource on first responder funding (local revenue options start on page 33 at the time of this writing).
State of California Grant Options for Fire Departments
The State of California offers grant aid and low-interest loans for capital improvement projects and fire-specific needs. Some of the major options to consider are:
- CA Fire Foundation Grants — the California Fire Foundation (CFF) provides grants to fire departments and firefighter associations, as well as to community organizations focused on fire safety. Since 2018, they have awarded over 400 grants for under-resourced communities, and for those with high fire risk.
- CAL FIRE Grants Program — CAL FIRE offers a range of grant options depending on need. These include fire prevention & suppression activities, hazardous fuels reduction, and training & education programs for firefighters. At the time of writing, available CAL FIRE grants include funding for:
- Cal OES Fire Management Assistance Grant — The California Office of Emergency Services (OES) offers several grant programs specifically for firefighters, also including the Wildland Fire Suppression Equipment Reimbursement Program and the CAL FIRE Hazardous Fuels Reduction Grant Program.
Federal Grant Options for California Fire Departments
The US government provides funding for fire departments across the country, especially to prevent national emergencies like wildfires.
- FEMA Assistance to Firefighters Grants Program — the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers a range of grants for different fire suppression and prevention purposes, from general PPE funding to wildland fire resources.
- The Department of Homeland Security provides updated resources for major grants available, including links to major grant providers. Some of these go through FEMA and other government agencies. The DHS also provides financial assistance directly to firefighters, along with disaster relief and prevention funds.
Private-Sector Funding Sources in California
In addition to government grants, the private sector also provides funding for firefighters and other first responders through philanthropic organizations and businesses. These funds can change based on a lot of changing factors, but a few examples of companies that have supported firefighters in the past include:
- The Home Depot Foundation offers grants for projects that improve the safety of first responders, including firefighters.
- The Verizon Foundation provides grants for a variety of groups, including first responders. These grants are invite-only however, so they can be more difficult to access. (The foundation sometimes donates during major fires as well).
- Wells Fargo Community Partners Grant Program: Wells Fargo has a long history of supporting firefighters, dating back to when they were one of the largest employers of full-time firemen in San Francisco during the late 1800s. Today, they offer funding for projects that promote community safety and preparedness.
Writing an Effective Grant Proposal
Grants can be competitive to win, and part of earning grant funding means writing a grant proposal. If you’re not familiar with this process, grants.gov is a federal grant site that also provides resources to help you write a compelling proposal.
Visit their grant writing resource page to learn how to write a compelling narrative for your grant, crafting need statements, prepare for reporting, and all the basics you’ll need to know to write a winning grant proposal.
If your department needs more resources, either due to a lack of funding or a growing need, you have more options available than you might think. Fire departments in the State of California have access to local, county, state, and federal funding options, as well as private sector and nonprofit options.
The grants and funding programs provided in this article are great places to start, but these options are not exhaustive. If you run out of luck with these sources, FireGrantsHelp lets registered users search federal, state, foundation, and corporate grants currently available in their communities.