Downey Fire on panel to award federal grants

DOWNEY - The Downey Fire Department, along with nearly 200 other emergency response agencies, helped award more than $400 million in federal grant money to local fire departments last month as part of a peer review panel organized by the Department of Homeland Security.Jason Patao, a Downey firefighter for more than 10 years, was invited to Baltimore, Maryland to join the exclusive panel of firefighters, responsible for reviewing more than 5,000 grant requests from fire departments all across the country. "There were requests for everything from heart monitors to communications equipment…One department had a fire truck that was 40-years-old and needed replacing," Patao said. "It was a great opportunity to be able to help other departments get the equipment they need." Since 2001, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as FEMA, has given grants to firefighters and other first responders to help them obtain vital equipment, protective gear, emergency vehicles, training, and other resources needed to protect the public from fires and related hazards. This fall, FEMA received 16,494 applications from municipal fire departments around the United States requesting a total of $2.5 billion. However, with only $405 million to distribute, FEMA reviewed the applications and set aside 5,000 grant requests from those departments most in need. Patao, along with dozens of other firefighters, spent five days reviewing the remaining 5,000 applications, scoring each one based upon the cost-benefit ratio, the type of equipment or training needed, and the city's demographics. While many fire departments sought to replace aging equipment, other cities requested funds to help keep their firefighters on the job. Out of the nearly 16,500 grant applications received by FEMA, more than half came from all-volunteer fire crews who rely on the federal funds to buy new equipment and train volunteer firefighters. Patao recalled one application sent by a small volunteer fire crew funded by only $2,000 a year. "A lot of communities rely on people volunteering to go out there. Many of them keep equipment in their cars and leave work to fight fires," said Patao. "These volunteer departments can't pay to send people to get the next level of training without these grants." After last month's peer review panel, FEMA is now responsible for awarding the $405 million in grant money to the fire departments in most need. Patao, who represented Downey last year in a peer review panel for another federal grant for firefighters, said Downey was one of the few cities representing California during last month's review process. Firefighters from Carlsbad and San Jose were also invited to represent California. "It was a great chance to represent the department on a national level and see what's going on and how things are operating," Patao said. "Without this program, many of these fire departments couldn't replace their equipment. These grants are crucial in making sure our nation's fire departments have the funds they need to make sure they are ready to answer the call." -Christian Brown, staff writer

********** Published: November 10, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 30