Since 2001, the West Barnstable Fire Department, servicing the seaside town of roughly 3,200, has received just shy of $1 million in grants. Part of that success came about from simply taking the first step: applying for a variety of them.
Chief Joe Maruca said he happened across the first grant, for EMS jackets, in 2001. “It was just paper,” he said, noting the department wouldn’t be out anything else by trying. “We got that grant back in 2001 and another one in 2002 — it just blossomed from there.”
In 2014 alone the department received five federal or state grants, including Assistance to Firefighters Grant program funding for a propane training prop and an AFG regional grant for rapid intervention team training. A third amount for $252,203 came from the federal Staffing for Fire & Emergency Response grant, which allowed the department to hire a deputy fire chief. That particular grant started May 16, 2014, and will pay for all costs associated with the deputy fire chief position during fiscal year 2015 and most of FY 2016, minus about 7.5 weeks. In FY 2017 the fire district will take over costs associated with the position.
WBFD also took advantage of a state grant, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency grant, in 2014 to replace all of its fire station windows with new, hurricaneresistant glass. The windows were original to the building, which was built in 1988 and had reached the point where they’d need to be replaced whether or not the department received the money.
The project was estimated to cost $75,000; the $56,250 grant made up 75 percent of the cost, leaving the department with a much smaller bill than it would have had otherwise. Installation of the windows began in July.
Other federal and state grants over the years have secured wildland personal protective equipment, a used ladder truck, a computer and printer, self-contained breathing apparatuses, lighting trailer, firefighting foam, chainsaws, Wildland Fire Training, diesel exhaust system for the fire station, air trailer, training software, wildland firefighting equipment and more.
Maruca attributes some of the department’s success to having members with writing skill sets. “I’m a fire chief and a lawyer; I write trusts,” he said, adding he is a writing lawyer rather than a trial one. “Writing complex legal documents turns out to be great practice for writing grants.”
He is not alone in the grant writing process. The MEMA grant was put together by Lt. Chuck Marshall of the WBFD and Katherine Garofoli, a former grant writer for Barnstable County and the wife of WBFD Lt. John Garofoli. Additionally, Maruca has worked with the new deputy chief, teaching him to continue the practice.
“He helps write them now,” he said, noting it was important to teach him because “it’s keeping the skill set alive within the department. It’s not just going to stop when I leave.”
Looking at the grant writing process, Maruca said small departments are just not getting AFG grants because their goals are usually very basic and require smaller amounts of funding, compared to large departments like Chicago or New York City. The essay requirements place small departments at a further disadvantage.
“The typical small department doesn’t have a grant writing force,” he said. “I feel the problem with AFG is its one-size-fits-all approach.”
For instance, a small department with a fire protective gear need seeks a grant; that grant may be for $8,000 or $9,000. Meanwhile, a larger department, like Chicago, seeks out a much larger grant, with its department having people specifically trained to write it. “They (small departments) have to write the same grant as Chicago,” Maruca said.
Smaller departments are especially hobbled when they get to the essay about cost benefit analysis. “They don’t know how to answer it,” he said, noting this causes small departments to score low on this portion of the AFG.
While WBFD has had much success, it has been turned down for grants in the past, too. Maruca stated persistence pays off, and recommends other small departments keep at the grant process. “We constantly write grants. We never give up. A lot of smaller departments try once or twice, are turned down and get discouraged.”
He stated WBFD tried for three years to secure funding for the deputy chief position, but met with no luck. It didn’t give up, though, and the SAFER grant came through in 2014.
WBFD has also found additional means of getting needed equipment, such as through donations and the federal excess property program. Through the federal excess property program it has received two trucks — a tanker, a former Air Force fuel truck repurposed into a water tender, and the department’s Forestry 288, a military truck now used for storm operations, accessing Sandy Neck and wildland firefighting — plus a free set of Jaws of Life and about 90 chairs for its training room.
It has also been blessed with donations, including its other forestry truck, a F-290, which was then built out using existing equipment and equipment bought with VFA grant funds and about $20,000 of department funds. More recently, in February, West Barnstable firefighters began training with the department’s new automatic CPR machine, purchased through the donations of 215 West Barnstable citizens.
Options exist for finding needed supplies. Sometimes all that is required is measures of persistence. And while a grant might be small in volume, Maruca said, “Just because it’s small doesn’t mean it’s not worth the effort.”