We all know that tools get broken, get lost and misplaced, or have to be replaced. But you have to have something to work on the equipment and apparatus.
Your treadmill has thousands of miles on it and is beyond the state of repair. It must be replaced so you can stay in shape for the demanding job at hand.
Your ice machine just doesn’t keep up, especially during the hot summer months when you really need it the most. It’s gotta go! Your station demands an ice machine that will produce enough ice to keep your water cold on those hot days. And don’t forget how much that ice gets used every day at the fire house.
So, how do you get what your station needs? If your account at the Credit Union is tapped out and your house dues person says the station can’t afford another loan – now what?
In these financially troubling times, many members have found success thinking “out of the box” to make their fire station a better place to work and live. This article is meant show you that there is funding available right under your very nose. Many members who are aware of these options have had success getting supplemental funds to finance the costs of running a fire station.
Some of the financial resources firefighters have available to them come directly from their local councilman’s office. Didn’t know that? Most firefighters do not know of this potential funding stream so let me explain the subtle nuances of this program.
Each councilman’s office has what is called “discretionary funding,” but in the present budgetary world, the sources of funding are far less than in the past. Some discretionary money has to go to 501(c)3 recognized charities. 501(c)(3) charities are exempt from taxes and are tax-deductible for those who donate to the charity. These include religious organizations, scientific research, public safety testing, literary charities, educational charities, national or international sports competitions for amateurs, arts promotions, and organizations working to prevent cruelty to animals and children.
So, after the councilman’s office gives to their selected 501(c)3 charities, there is money left over for other discretionary donations like the local fire station in their district which is in dire need of many things.
My main advice for any members who wish to explore this funding stream is to remember that donations revolve around relationship building. Each office has a Public Safety Deputy (PSD). Often, as in the case in Council District 12, that PSD is a retired LAPD officer with more knowledge and perhaps a bias toward the police. Any request for funding will go through that person. It is imperative to have a personal relationship with the PSD so take the initiative and reach out. It might be good to have the PSD over for lunch, and allow him/her to see the condition of the station. If the PSD is a retired police officer, they are in their own element walking into the police station, chatting with the officers, and finding a way to help with say, some night vision goggles for the vice squad. They may not immediately understand an extra chainsaw issue at a fire station. These issues need to be explained in detail with an emphasis on public and firefighter safety.
There is no citywide formal process to obtain these funds. If a fire station needs an icemaker, tools, treadmill etc., a captain at the fire station could ask the PSD about procuring the necessary funds. But in all likelihood, they will require an email to the council member from one of the captains with the request. The request should obviously explain the need, and try to tie it into the public good.
Another source is the Neighborhood Council. Again, relationships are key. Fire station members should try to regularly attend the Neighborhood Council meetings to build the relationship and remind them that YOU ARE THEIR FIRE STATION. The captain may want to ask for a few minutes at a meeting to discuss local issues. Station boundaries and Neighborhood Council boundaries don’t necessarily align, so a station could be in two Neighborhood Councils, or two stations could be in the same council.
Neighborhood Council funding has dropped every year, just like everywhere else. Still, the February/March timeframe is when Neighborhood Councils start looking at end-of-year projects and funding. Some Neighborhood Councils expend their budget early and have no money left, while others may still have money left and are looking for a project to fund. With Neighborhood Councils, buying something is much easier with a credit card than a check. Typically, the fire station will work with a Neighborhood Council Board Member who can advocate for the purchase at a board meeting. It’s best to be as specific as possible, like: Stihl MS 211 C-BE chain saw available from “John’s Lawnmower and Saw” for $357.94, for clearing downed trees and branches during windstorms. Although a new microwave or gym equipment is very possible, starting with something that will serve a visible public good is an easier sell. Unless the captains have complete confidence that their board member can answer all questions from the board or the audience, the firefighters should be present when their item comes up at meetings. A busy engine company can usually work with the president so their item comes up first on the agenda when they can be there to answer questions.
Another source is the LAFD Foundation (http://supportlafd.org/). They are a 501(c)3 organization and requests could be funneled through them to your Neighborhood Council. Check with them about their rules and remember that they were established to help you with these needs. They have been successful with Neighborhood Councils for funding in the past and they may be able to help your station when you need them the most. Neighborhood Councils love to fund things in their neighborhoods, which explains why it’s one of their primary jobs and where they see the best results.
Let’s face it, LAPD is just plain better organized to get funding from the council member’s office, Neighborhood Councils and the public. Even though LAPD station boundaries are generally smaller than battalion boundaries, there is a central point for relationship building with the citizens. Often there is an organized group of supporters or boosters for a specific police station that do fund raisers for officer’s needs that the city doesn’t cover. There are volunteers in each police station that handle routine or mundane tasks like data entry. There is one overall station commander for the station, who meets regularly with these groups, plus a community relation’s team led by a sergeant. Contrast that with three equal LAFD battalion chief’s with a small office at a station, no community relations staff and no volunteers. Some of these differences are cultural; some are because of the nature of the work.
An example of LAPD fundraising in Devonshire Division is a group called Supporters Of Law enforcement In Devonshire (SOLID). They are a 501(c)3 and do two major fund raisers a year: a pancake breakfast at the station and a pasta dinner at a church. As the end of the year approaches, SOLID asks the Neighborhood Councils in the Devonshire Division to fund specific projects. LAPD has been at this fundraising game for a long while and it shows.
Could members of LAFD employ some of these tactics? It would require extra work and tenacity on the part of the members to persevere. As more time passes, the constraints of finding new sources of revenues will become more difficult. The historical sources of revenues such as fundraising or donations are in competition with an increasingly large group of organizations also fighting for the donations. There are lots of good organizations trying to get the attention of donors and benefactors so they can get their share of the pie.
So, will it be your fire station that decides to give any one of these options a try? Maybe the members of your station don’t want to be bothered by attending any meetings that they are not obligated or ordered to attend. Maybe they don’t want to put forth the effort to reach out to their local City government officials. Maybe they’re happy with the status quo at the fire station and just want to be left alone. But just maybe someone will take the reins and explore the different options to fund your station. If you do, I think you’ll find that success really wasn’t that hard after all. Good Luck!
Acknowledgments to Pat Pope, Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council, and Isaac Burks (LAFD Retired), Council District 4 for their help with this article.
By Fred Lopez, LAFD retired