Emergency service agencies are eligible for a financial helping hand and, according to Warren County Public Safety Director Todd Lake, all they really need to do is reach for it.
On Sept. 5, applications for the state's Fire Company and Volunteer Ambulance Service Grant Program will open for 45 days to all fire companies and volunteer ambulance services.
This year marks a first for the program, as municipal fire departments were included in the list of agencies eligible for the grant. The grant had been limited to volunteer companies in the past.
The grant money is available for use on projects in four different areas. According to the Office of the State Fire Commissioner website, applicants can use funds for construction or renovation work of service facilities, including purchase and repair of fixtures and furnishings used to "maintain or improve the capability of the company"; for purchase or repair of equipment; for training and certification of members of an organization or for debt reduction associated with facilities work or equipment purchases. Grants may be awarded for up to two projects per-organization.
Lake said that do to the essential and broad nature of the eligible grant usages, "Essentially, if they apply, they get it."
Organizations can apply for amounts between $2,500 and $15,000 for fire departments. The maximum amount available to ambulance services is $10,000. Lake said awards have averaged approximately $9,500 per fire department and $5,600 per ambulance service.
Grant funding is supplied through an annual appropriation of $25 million from the State Gaming Fund; an additional $5 million annually was appropriated from the Property Tax Relief Reserve Fund for the program in 2012. The $30 million total and the number of eligible organizations which apply for funds will determine the actual grant sums awarded.
To be eligible, a fire department must "have actively responded to one or more fire or rescue emergencies during the previous calendar year and is officially recognized by the appropriate municipality". A volunteer ambulance service need only meet the requirements to be defined as such under law. A volunteer ambulance service is defined as "any non-profit chartered corporation, association or organization located in the Commonwealth, which is licensed by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and is not associated or affiliated with any hospital and which is regularly engaged in the provision of emergency medical services, including basic life support or advanced life support services and advanced life support squads".
It is also possible for a company to receive more than one grant award, according to Lake. Organizations which operate both fire and ambulance services can receive awards for both. Nine fire departments in Warren County are listed as also maintaining ambulance service on the Warren County Fire Services website.
Consolidated organizations are also eligible for additional funds.
According to program guidelines, when two or more fire or ambulance service companies have, "merged/consolidated their use of equipment, (personnel) and services within five years preceding the date of the current year application submission deadline, the consolidated entity may be deemed eligible to receive a grant not to exceed the amount of the combined total for which the individual companies would have been eligible had they not consolidated."
This year also marks the first time joint projects between departments qualify for funding. Three or more organizations can apply independently for funds to be used on a joint project, but must apply for at least $5,000 each to qualify.
Despite the broad qualifications for grant projects, some organizations didn't even apply for the 2011-2012 grant program.
"Last year, three fire department and two ambulances did not apply," Lake noted.
According to Lake, Warren County Emergency Management is available to help departments with the grant application process if needed.
"If anybody needs any help we have the information here," Lake said. "We would be happy to help."
The deadline for applications for 2012-2013 grant money is 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19.