Fire departments are using Homeland Security grants to buy gym equipment, sponsor puppet and clown shows, and turn first responders into fitness trainers.
The spending choices are allowable under the guidelines of the Assistance to Firefighters grant administered by the Homeland Security Department, which has awarded nearly 250 grants since February totaling more than $25 million out of the current spending pot of $545 million….
In Florida, the Plantation City Council recently voted to use its $28,000 grant for treadmills, stationary bikes and training machines for police and firefighters. The Crawfordsville Fire Department in Indiana is using its $55,000 to buy gym equipment, provide nutritional counseling and instruct firefighters on how to become fitness trainers….
The LAFS for Life program which received a $69,000 grant, partners with the Des Moines, Iowa, fire department to teach fire safety through puppet and clown shows. The Onalaska Fire Department in Wisconsin also has an $8,000 grant for clowns and puppet shows, and Grants Pass in Oregon will use a $22,000 grant to buy an educational robot.
Sounds irresponsible, doesn’t it? Certainly some of these items, such as the educational robot, are questionable. But this story is very misleading, in three key ways:
First, the story fails to provide analysis in context about these grant awards, not noting that the vast majority of recent awards are for worthwhile needs; namely, the basic equipment that firefighters need to do their jobs. Look at the list for yourself.
Second, although these fire grants are administered by DHS, they pre-date 9/11 and have never been intended to focus solely on terrorism-related activities. They’re intended to provide federal support to firefighters for all of their public responsibilities. There has never been an intent to distribute them in the risk-driven way that other homeland security grant programs (appropriately) should be.
Third, the story suggests that the funding for gyms and training equipment is contrary to the program’s original purpose. In fact, the original program guidance in early 2001 states clearly that these grants can be used “for the purpose of establishing and/or equipping wellness and fitness programs for firefighting personnel.”
A responsible story would have included this contextual information about the firefighter grant program.