Watertown Daily Times
September 12, 2018


WATERTOWN — For local fire departments, small budgets can make it difficult to replace even basic equipment.

“Here, there’s no money,” said Michael Henning, training officer with the Alexandria Bay Fire Department on Tuesday. “What we have works, but there’s newer stuff out there.”

Mr. Henning was one of a handful of people to attend the Federal Emergency Management Agency Assistance to Firefighters Grant Workshop at the Flower Memorial Library on Tuesday.

Brian S. Thomas, a trainer with FEMA, was invited to give three workshops around the 21st Congressional District by U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik to help local fire departments and ambulance services apply for money to fund equipment, vehicles and training.

“I like to come out and do this,” Mr. Thomas said. “It serves the community.”

The day before, Mr. Thomas had done a training in Keeseville, and his third training for the district is today in Ballston Spa.

Mr. Thomas went through the whole process of how to apply for the $316 million from FEMA set aside for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant. Even with this pool of money, competition is strong and some kinds of equipment are highly prioritized while other equipment — especially specialty items like boats or hazmat suits — are almost impossible to get funded.

The trainings are fairly recent. According to Stefanik spokesman Tom Flanagin, this is the third year her office has held them in the district. Last year, local fire departments secured $1,233,744 in FEMA grants.

“Our office is proud to host these important workshops to help our first responders secure federal funding,” Mr. Flanagin wrote in an email to the Times. “Our office has provided 15 letters of support for many of these grants. We have invited over 200 Fire Departments to our workshops this year and look forward to the opportunity to assist anyone interested in navigating the grants process.”

Mr. Henning said Alexandria Bay had applied almost every year for the last five years without success. This was his first time attending the training.

“(I learned) basically what box to check … to receive some federal grant money,” he said of the training. “We’d like to get equipment for the personal protection of the firefighters themselves.”

Mr. Henning said the local community was supportive of the department, but even so it was difficult to keep up with new requirements.

“The Town of Alexandria has one of the most generous communities I’ve ever seen,” he said. “Local communities can’t afford what they’re telling us we need to have.”

Mr. Thomas was able to bring up information on grants that had been denied to local departments — including Alexandria Bay and Lewis County Search and Rescue — to help them better prepare for next year.

Carla Fowler, a member of the Tug Hill Commission, helped Lewis County Search and Rescue with its application last year. She attended the training to learn why the equipment grant had been denied last year, and what to do differently.

“Just having the opportunity to ask specific questions — (it’s) pretty useful,” she said.