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Shutdown impact: Training, preparation for fighting wildfires

An unexpected impact of the government shutdown: canceled training for wildland firefighters. With wildfires becoming more frequent, firefighters have a shorter off-season to prepare. Now that compressed window for training and gear acquisition has become even shorter due to the shutdown's frozen funding, says Jim Whittington, a consultant and former Forest Service employee. Judy Woodruff reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we have been trying to show each night, the reach of this partial shutdown is much wider than many realize.

    That includes preparations for battling wildfires. This is a time of the year when federal and state firefighters go to training and refresher courses. These winter months are also when contracts are awarded for aircraft, important equipment and gear needed for the ever-longer fire season ahead, a season growing, in part, because of climate change, and which seems to be stretching ever longer.

    But the funding for these preparations is now in limbo. While some firefighters are protected from furloughs, many of these key operations aren't happening. Some training courses have been canceled in Western states.

    Jim Whittington, who worked at the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, now has his own consulting firm in Oregon.

  • Jim Whittington:

    Training for wildland firefighters is greatly affected by the shutdown. There's already a compressed time frame because of climate change.

    You have fires starting earlier, fires going later. When you take three or four or more weeks out of the time frame that is there for the training and the learning for our firefighters, that creates a tremendous burden on everybody within the wildland fire community, federal, state and local.

    And it also makes it more difficult to plan for the early — at least the early stages of the 2019 fire year. And it may be difficult to fill some of the positions early on, as folks scramble to meet the qualifications and take the courses that are needed so they can fill the positions.

    I think morale is definitely suffering within the wildland fire community, because there is this sense of inevitability of the 2019 fire year coming down the tracks and bearing down on people, and a frustration that they are prevented right now from doing the work necessary to prepare, not only themselves, but their communities, partners, and everyone else who might be affected by a fire in 2019.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That was Jim Whittington.

    The U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Interior have also suspended some managed burns of built-up fuel to decrease the likelihood and the severity of fires.

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