Firefighters describe how the government shutdown affects them — Chapter 1

Shep Canyon Fire, Black Hills South Dakota
Shep Canyon Fire, Black Hills of South Dakota. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Beginning this week the partial government shutdown that began December 22 gets real, affecting 800,000 employees and their families, about 40 percent of the full time federal workforce. For many of the workers, checks that would normally arrive or be electronically deposited the middle of this week or next week will be missing in action. The lack of pay will continue until the President and Congress can agree to end the shutdown.

poll government shutdown federal employeesOn January 4 we conducted a brief two-hour poll on Twitter, asking federal government employees if they were in favor of the shutdown. We limited it to two hours to minimize the ability of special interest groups to mobilize and flood the poll with partisan answers. It is not a scientific representative sample by any means, and we can’t guarantee that only federal employees participated, but you may find it interesting. Of the 74 votes, 81 percent were not in favor of the partial government shutdown, while 19 percent were for it.

We also asked a few federal employees to tell us in detail how the shutdown was affecting them personally. Below is one of the responses, lightly edited for length and readability. We will post more responses from furloughed employees in the coming days.

A Bureau of Land Management firefighter in the Western United States said sometimes people that don’t know who he works for tell him it’s not a big deal federal employees are not getting paid:

“I try and explain”, he told us, “that even though people work for the federal government it does not mean that they are not like everyone else out there in the US that work paycheck to paycheck. These people have lives, bills, expenses, and medical issues that everyone else has. Is it the public’s perception that because one works for the government that they are paid well, and don’t have the same struggles as everyone else does?

“[The shutdown] is politically motivated. For the president and Congress to hold the country hostage is completely wrong and misguided. I am married, my wife does not work, except to take care of our [children]. I depend on my job to provide for the family. It’s why I went full time after being the typical hotshot employee, where it was just me. I knew then my job was part time and I always had [another job] to get me through until Spring when we would ramp back up with the shots. It’s not like that now — it’s family and long term job stability that I/we want.

“We have savings we are living on now, savings that were meant to go towards the land and house we are buying that now is on hold. Not knowing how long this will last is the hard part. The complete uncertainty of when it will happen again leaves me to question if this is the time to buy anything? I haven’t mentioned it to my wife, but I can’t have uncertainly in my life now, I have people depending on me, something I didn’t have before. Is it fair of me to continue in a job where even during the best of times, I am gone, literally for a minimum of 4 months out of the year? Add this crap shutdown, yes, I am home, but without a paycheck, it leaves very little for a family to be able to do. Sure as hell cant run down for a Disneyland vacation.

“As far as the office, no winter work is getting done, fuel reduction projects are all on hold, no hiring, not being able to start looking at who wants to come to work. [Incident Management] Team nominations are due. Who applied and when will we be able to notify those people that they were accepted onto a team? Will those people still be around, or did they move on because of the shutdown? Team meetings need to be planned. This year all Great Basin teams, type 1, 2, and 3 are meeting in Reno, will that networking happen, or when government reopens will the backlog of missed work take precedence? Training is on hold, with some of the classes completely out of the question of being made up, thereby delaying needed training for employees, and adding to the stress of this job. How much time will we have to get the refresher and pack test done before fire season is once again upon us?

“I also think the tactic that Trump used to deny the 2% pay increase [for 2019] was chickens***. One thing I hear over and over is that retention is related to the amount someone is paid. A GS 3/4 making $12 an hour won’t be coming back without something more in the paycheck. To deny that minimal 2% to the hard working federal employees is nothing but a kick in the ass.”


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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

6 thoughts on “Firefighters describe how the government shutdown affects them — Chapter 1”

  1. Maybe they (FFs) get paid when shut down comes back up

    Yet currently people with families are now dealing with unemployment insurance they will have to pay it back but some people have to use that option.

    I am at the 2019 Phoenix Arizona AMS annual meeting conference, Bill and many could not present due to Government shutdown. Some are present but cannot speak. Sad. I was looking forward to the Fire Weather section. Meeting many fine Navy Research Lab folks and other great people. I have not learned any new tricks on Satellites that I do not already know but real good time with like minded 😉

    It ends tomorrow – the conference – so then I can get back to that IAWF project.

  2. I can’t believe that after knowing Obama froze federal COLA during his time as president That President Trump would continue down that road.
    Although I voted for him it’s getting harder and harder to say definitively that I would vote for him again.

    1. “Obama” did not freeze COLA. COLA is determined by the increase in the consumer price index and is federally calculated. The largest COLA increase in the past 15 years was in 2009 (Obama President)

  3. This is the time pf year the classroom training gets done. Everything from 200 level training at the local level to the 500 and 600 level classes at thew national level. No instructors, no trainees. As stated above, coordination meetings of all types start to happen after January 1st. As usual the firefighting community will suck it up and do the best they can when there is fire on the landscape.

    1. Very true.

      The Federal Fire Weather Forensic type folks here at AMS are able to speak only if they are sub contracted but all government staff is not allowed to speak and today the Toast Boss said she is contracted as well as a lady from NASA/NOOA

      I am keeping everyone in prayer because some have this concept that FFs are just on some unpaid now vacation with a pay back later yet that is not yet set in stone.

      What it has done though has impacted people who were in recent car accidents have to get unemployment insurance paid high premiums out of their pocket while his spouse has sensitive time concerned health needs so its a must.
      Bill, I hope this specific blog post gets more people to share their experience during shut down.

      I am sorry to the ones facing agitations due to this.

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