Full time and seasonal firefighters describe how the shutdown affects them — Chapter 5

Britania Mountain Fire Wyoming
Firefighters conduct a firing operation to remove the fuel along Palmer Canyon Road on the Britania Mountain Fire in Wyoming. Uploaded to InciWeb September 2, 2018.

On Friday January 25 both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed a measure that would reopen the Departments of Agriculture and Interior as well as the other closed agencies, but for only a three-week period. The President signed the bill Friday evening. Hopefully before the three-week period expires, the politicians who are paid to develop a federal budget will do their jobs.

As this was written Friday night, the date the closed agencies will reopen has not been released. The U.S. Forest Service information page about the shutdown has not been revised to reflect the changes, but probably will be soon.

Even with this good news for the unpaid workers, it could be a while before they see their next paycheck. However, back pay for the shutdown period has already be authorized by a recent act of Congress.

Shutdown Story, Chapter 5

Below is the fifth in a series of articles in which we let firefighters and other land management agency employees associated with wildland fire describe in their own words how the partial shutdown of the federal government that began December 22 is affecting them. They all requested to remain anonymous.

Chapter 5, below, has been lightly edited.

This is what we heard from a Bureau of Land Management employee on January 8, 2019:

“It’s affecting me with stress about my finances since I have no clue when the shutdown will end. And I really want get back to work since I was been on Annual Leave on and off during the last two months.

“February and March tend to have a lot of meetings and training in my field which could be impacted since we are not in the office to know about them and make the travel arrangements.“For BLM in Nevada, I know hiring is affected because we can’t pull the lists of applicants or review them. We were able to get the list for one vacant position before the shutdown but now we can’t do anything with it because of the shutdown. The Region 4 Fire Hire has been postponed, which affects another job in my office.”

And on January 23, 2019 we received an update from the same person:

“I will be missing 2nd paycheck on Tuesday. I have pretty much stopped all my spending except for essential (food, medical, bills). I am trying to stay positive, but as it continues that gets harder. However, trying to help keep up the mood of my friends who are also furloughed, does help.

“I’m lucky that I have savings to get me to March but I can’t plan anything past mid-February since I have no clue what my work schedule will be. Overall, I’m just frustrated with the situation and really want to get back to work.”

Another employee, a seasonal, who had been worried about the firefighting job he applied for sent us this:

“I received some paperwork from the agency as well as my tentative selection notice. I’m supposed to be completing my background check this week but the fingerprint kit is being sent to the wrong address and I have no way of contacting anyone to get the issue resolved because of the shutdown. It’s a bit frustrating and I’m starting to be concerned about whether or not I’ll have the opportunity to complete S-131 Advanced Firefighter training this spring.”

All of the shutdown stories can all be found at the tag “shutdown stories.”

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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.