Finding your niche in EMS grant funding

Emergency Medical Service organizations have been placed in a unique position. Whether you are classified as a public health organization or a public safety organization depends on your area of the world.

Some say EMS organizations should be placed in the public safety realm because of their response to acute emergencies resulting from motor vehicle collisions, hazardous materials incidents, shootings, stabbings and traditional medical illnesses. Responses to these incidents will also result in a response from other public safety organizations, such as law enforcement and the fire department.

Other industry experts say the EMS organization reports to the public health sector. Indeed, EMS professionals are in the field, taking care of patients’ health during times of acute or chronic illness or injury.

Normally, a simple change in the classification of an organization wouldn’t do much to change its fiscal outlook. However, when it comes to grants, the argument can open up new avenues for funding. The top-tier public safety grants (AFG, SAFER, COPS) are saved for the fire service and law enforcement. Other organizations such as the National Institute of Health provide funding toward public health, emergency medicine, and other medical professions.

Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG)

Now, here is where the dual classification can be beneficial to our EMS partners in the field. By adopting the public safety side of our operations and joining with our colleagues from the fireside, the 2011 grant guidance from the AFG program will provide volumes of information about potential funding through this annual program.

EMS agencies are further broken down within the public safety sector based upon their style of service. Traditionally, the EMS community is broken down into the following: Fire service-based EMS, in which the community fire department operates ambulances staffed with medical personnel; hospital-based EMS, in which the service is operated by a specific hospital; municipal-operated EMS, in which the local community provides EMS service through operating an independent (not held within the fire service) ambulance service; and for-profit agencies that contract with a community to provide EMS response.

Many grants for EMS operations exclude for-profit EMS agencies. This information will be stated in the grant guidance for any specific grants. If the application being submitted is for a fire-based EMS agency, it would be similar to any other fire department grant request.

If your agency is a hospital-based or municipal EMS organization, your application would be submitted under nonaffiliated EMS organization priorities. You can find this information in the 2011 Grant Guidance (For Grant Guidance Click Here), starting on page 24.

The AFG program considers five areas when funding the nonaffiliated EMS organization application: First responder/EMR training, EMS equipment acquisition, EMS personal protective equipment purchase, EMS wellness and fitness and modifications to EMS facilities.

In 2011, funding for the AFG program was capped at $404,190,000, which represents a significant decrease over the previous year’s awards. Funding levels for the 2012 application have not been published.

To better understand the five categories for nonaffiliated EMS organizations and the funding priorities for each, we will look deeper into each category. The AFG grant guidance document gives values to each of the areas, which they call “funding priorities.” Each year the funding priorities change; but in preparation for the 2012 application period, start planning around the 2011 AFG guidance document, and verify when the new document is released.

Category 1: EMS Training

“AFG provides grants to train EMS personnel. Examples of training activities include, but are not limited to, first responder, Basic Life Support (BLS), Advanced Life Support (ALS), Paramedic, Hazmat Operations, or Rescue Operations.” (AFG 2011)

Funding priority in this category will be given to those preparing to increase the agency’s level of service from BLS to ALS through incorporation of EMT-I or from EMT-I to Paramedic. However, the lowest funding priority will be assigned to those trying to move from the EMT-B to Paramedic level due to the length of time and cost associated with this increase.

Category 2: EMS Equipment

“Equipment requested should solve interoperability or compatibility problems as may be required by local jurisdictions. Equipment requested, particularly decontamination and Hazmat equipment is fundable to the current level of an organization’s capabilities.” (AFG, 2011)

In this category, the highest priorities are assigned to departments upgrading from Basic Life Support (BLS) to Advanced Life Support (ALS) and agencies requesting equipment that brings the department into compliance with national, state or local jurisdictional requirements.

Category 3: EMS Personal Protective Equipment

The funding priority for this section is based upon getting first responders the protection they need. The highest priority is funding the purchase of PPE for the first time and replacing or updating obsolete PPE to meet current standards. In addition to requesting the personal protective equipment, agencies must ensure to the grantor that trained individuals will use the PPE purchased or that training will be provided as part of the purchase.

Category 4: EMS Wellness and Fitness

“Wellness and fitness programs are intended to strengthen personnel so their mental, physical, and emotional capabilities are resilient enough to withstand the demands of emergency services response. To be eligible for funding under this activity, organizations must offer, or plan to offer, all four of the following programs:

Periodic health screenings

Entry physical examinations


Behavioral health programs”(AFG, 2011)

Cardiovascular disease has been a leading cause of death and disability in the emergency services community. It stems from lengthy work hours, high stress levels, poor eating habits and minimal time allotted to exercise. Organizations that have implemented comprehensive wellness and fitness programs have been able to identify members who were diabetic and didn’t know. They identified others who had significant cardiovascular disease and could schedule for surgery before negative medical situations occurred.

Funding here excludes the purchase of gym memberships, new real estate, cash incentives and failure to meet National Fire Protection Agency Standard 1582.

Category 5: Modifications to EMS Facilities

This section is limited but designed to help organizations provide quality working environments. Nonaffiliated EMS organizations are limited to providing renovations to EMS facilities, and those renovations cannot exceed #100,000.00. Additionally, those renovations must meet environmental requirements and compliance with all EHP laws.


Prior preparation prevents poor performance. The 2012 AFG program will be publishing the grant guidance a little later this year. For the greatest potential to succeed in this highly competitive grant, it is best to prepare for this opportunity early.

With a funding cap of more than $400 million, this grant opportunity has funded many tremendous initiatives across the nation, and as funding for EMS agencies increases, it is good for all agencies to request it.

As part of the public safety community, EMS agencies can access funding to enhance the level of care provided to our citizens. Finding the source and the means of the funding is imperative to success.

Next month, we will review the alter ego of EMS and discuss how funding through public health will allow our EMS partners receive more funding to enhance pre-hospital emergency care. 

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