Homeland grants begin to flow to fire departments

The Homeland Security Department this month began accepting applications from fire departments for $750 million in grants, including funds for technology initiatives.

"Effective firefighters in every community are critical to America's homeland security," Secretary Tom Ridge said in a statement. "We want to help the fire service to move quickly to develop and acquire the necessary knowledge, skills and equipment to respond to all emergencies, large and small."

The release of the funds comes amid complaints by governors and mayors that the federal government isn't providing enough money for first responders, which includes firefighters, police and rescue workers. The president's 2003 budget promised $3.5 billion for new first-responder grants, to be overseen by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

According to the department, the program aims to promote interoperable communications for first responders and will award grants for integrated communications systems for base stations, computer-aided dispatch systems and gear.

Ridge sent the grant guidelines to all governors. The application form is available online at http://www.usfa.fema.gov. Fire departments must submit applications by April 11. Homeland Security plans to start distributing funds by July.

The Fire Administration, a branch of FEMA that has become part of Homeland Security, will administer the Assistance to Firefighters Grants Program. Last year, FEMA issued 5,316 firefighter grants totaling more than $334 million.

Federal grants for homeland security have been a sore spot for the states. According the National Governors Association, Congress only approved a small amount of new money. Most of the funds come from older programs that either have been eliminated or consolidated, or whose scope has been broadened to include homeland security, the association said. *

Wilson Dizard is a staff writer with Government Computer News. He can be reached at wdizard@postnewsweektech.com.

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