The most serious effect of the federal government furloughing 40 percent of their full time employees is the fact that they are not being paid. Most of the 800,000 people will begin receiving nothing on their regular paydays this week or next. After political circus is over, Congress and the President may or may not arrange for them to receive lump sum payments for the laid off period, but until then many folks and their families that live paycheck to paycheck could have difficulty making payments for rent, mortgage, vehicles, medical bills, and food. In addition, health insurance premiums will have to be paid at some point, possibly after the furlough is over.
This is normally the time of the year when federal agencies that fight wildfires are heavily into the hiring of seasonal firefighters and other workers. The process may vary a bit among the federal agencies and from region to region, but generally by the first part of January they have been accepting applications for several months — officials could have started evaluating candidates in mid-December.
A furloughed firefighter told us what will happen next under the current conditions:
[This time] there is no local contact at each of the districts for applicants to get more information about the location, help in using the USA Jobs site, and just general information. It will be a huge catchup game once the government does “reopen” in terms of getting interviews scheduled, seeing who is still available and interested in the job, and getting those new people scheduled for medicals, pack tests, and rookie schools.
We are aware of at least one fire-related event that has been canceled. A three-day workshop in Missoula that is part of a multi-year project titled “Identifying ecological and social resilience in fire-prone landscapes” was scheduled to begin January 29. Two-thirds of the 25 attendees who planned to attend were from the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management. Room blocks in hotels had been reserved and some had bought airline tickets. The organizers hope to reschedule the workshop when that becomes possible.
The five-day American Meteorological Society annual meeting that usually attracts thousands of participants is occurring now in Phoenix. Hundreds of employees from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (which includes the National Weather Service) and possibly some land management agencies as well, will not be able to have their travel expenses paid by the federal government. Last year NOAA sent more than 400 scientists to the meeting.
From the Washington Post:
This meeting is where scientists hatch new ideas for lifesaving methods and warnings, said Dan Sobien, the president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization. “Any delay in that research could someday cost someone their life, and that person could be you or me,” Sobien said. Not having NWS meteorologists there to collaborate “will likely cost many more lives than the absence of any border wall, anywhere.”
Some attendees at the meeting tweeted about the effects of the shutdown.
Really missed the presence of the federal meteorologists at #AMS2019 . One fellow met described the conference as “deflated” w/o them. I concur
— Weatherman Cam (@WeathermanCam) January 10, 2019
Wildland fire training is being affected
Firefighters in state and federal agencies have clearly defined paths to qualify for the career ladder of jobs, as well as specific firefighting positions defined in the National Interagency Incident Management System (NIIMS). Every position on the organization chart at a fire or other incident is supposed to be filled by a person who has advanced through previous lower level positions, and for the next position has completed all of the classes and on-the-job training that is required. If one step is missed, because a training class was cancelled during the shutdown, it can set the individuals back for at least a year until they can compete to reschedule the class. They will be told, “maybe next year.”
“Some (most) firefighters look at training as a way to further their career and some look at it as a reward for busting ass the previous season”, one firefighter told us. “It allows one to further their career or branch out into a different area. If you are stuck as an Engine Boss because you can’t get into Strike Team Leader class, it wears down on you. ”
Most of the wildland firefighter training is conducted during the off season, from late Fall into Spring. One firefighter told us that the training calendar in some areas is scrubbed for the month of January, including at least seven classes in Boise.
(If you know of other effects of the shutdown on individuals, training, or events, tell us about it in a comment.)