Modern SCBA do much more than supply breathing air. Integrated thermal imaging cameras, tracking devices and PASS alarms have increased the capabilities and the cost of SCBA. Because of the cost, the best resource to fund an SCBA purchase is the Assistance to Firefighters Grant.
When I joined the fire service decades ago, SCBA were commonly referred to as air masks. If a department was lucky enough to have a couple they were usually stored in large suitcase-like containers in an engine's compartments. The cost for a single unit was $500 to $1,000 depending on the brand and type purchased. Departments funded these purchases through regular fundraising activities.
Today, I consider SCBA to be one of the five necessary requirements of a fire department. Excluding personnel, the five requirements are:
4. Turnout gear
What was once viewed as luxury is now a necessity. At the same time, today’s SCBA do so much more than supply you with breathing air. With increased technology, like built in TICs, tracking devices and PASS alarms, has come a dramatic increase in cost.
For example, the cost for a department to provide 20 sets of SCBA to cover their firefighters and to meet NFPA standards is approaching $150,000 depending on options. This leaves many departments struggling to find the funding to cover such a purchase.
AFG is best SCBA funding resource
Because of the cost, the best resource for funding an SCBA purchase is the Assistance to Firefighters Grant. Yes, AFG is a highly competitive process but it is the only source that has enough funding to permit you to replace all of your SCBA simultaneously.
There are other sources that fund SCBA purchases, such as state grants or foundation support, but most of these funders simply don’t have the financial capabilities to support such a large purchase. If you go the route of replacing a few SCBA each year, the next thing you know the standard has changed and you now have two different models of SCBA on your rigs.
Planning for your AFG application for SCBA
As with other AFG activities, you should initiate your AFG planning by assessing your current SCBA. Your SCBA assessment should answer these questions:
- Does your SCBA inventory accommodate at least one SCBA for each seated position on your apparatus?
- What NFPA standard does your current SCBA meet? AFG is concerned with the standard year that your SCBA meets, not the year you purchased the units.
- Have you had any situations where your SCBA failed at an alarm or training class?
- Has your department sustained any fatalities or injuries as a result of the condition of your SCBA?
- Does your current SCBA inventory include units from different manufacturers or different models from the same manufacturer?
- Have any firefighters been denied training because of the SCBA’s condition?
- Are your SCBA so old that they can no longer be repaired?
- Are your air cylinders near or past their last hydro test date?
Turning answers into narratives
The answers to these questions are a strong foundation on which to build your narrative. Your project description narrative should discuss the age of your SCBA. It should discuss any maintenance issues and ongoing problems with the units. Write about any injuries, fatalities or missed training opportunities that the condition of your SCBA has caused.
Another important point is the reoccurring maintenance costs of your current units. Describe how SCBA maintenance is affecting your department’s budget.
The cost/benefit narrative should detail the advantages that the department will have with new SCBA. Delineate the financial benefit of the grant to the community. In addition, lay out what standards you will now meet with your new SCBA and if the purchase will also benefit neighboring departments.
The statement of effect section of your AFG narrative should specify how the new SCBA will positively impact the daily operations and increase the department’s capabilities to handle alarms.
AFG success tips for SCBA
Here are four things to remember about SCBA and AFG funding:
1. Do not apply to replace SCBA that is less than two NFPA cycles old.
2. For AFG, an SCBA consists of the cylinder that comes with the pack and a spare cylinder. Do not apply for additional spare cylinders. AFG assumes that 10 SCBA units will have 20 cylinders.
3. SCBA from a manufacturer that is no longer in business is considered obsolete.
4. The SCBA’s age is determined from the manufacturer’s tag attached to the SCBA, not from the date on the cylinder.