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Colorado wildland firefighters impacted by shutdown as training across country is cancelled

West Metro Fire uses the winter to prepare for the height of the wildfire season, but worries about gaps in training and communication with federal partners.
Credit: KUSA

MORRISON, Colo. — Ronda Scholting applied for a class in the fall that would bring her closer to qualifying for a fire prevention team, where she would be able to help fight large fires across the country.

"This is a very hard class to find, to get into and to complete just because they don't offer it that often," said Scholting, West Metro Fire's public information officer. 

But Scholting was accepted, and said she was ready to head to Tennessee this month. But then she got the notification that it was cancelled because of the government shutdown. 

Credit: Ronda Scholting

The current partial government shutdown is the longest in U.S. history. Some 800,000 federal workers have been placed on furlough -- about 53,000 in Colorado -- while President Donald Trump and Democrats remain gridlocked over funding for a barrier along the country's southwestern border.

"I was very disappointed when they cancelled the class because this particular class will not be offered in Colorado or the Rocky Mountain region this year, and probably not next year," Scholting said.

Similar classes in Oregon and Montana were also cancelled because many of the instructors are federal employees. 

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“That puts us a little bit behind the eight-ball," said Captain Brendan Finnegan, West Metro Fire's wildland program coordinator. "And we were counting on staying ahead of the game, getting our folks certified or qualified in other positions as we continue to move up in the ranks and be able to support those fires in a larger capacity." 

Not only are these courses being cancelled, but Captain Finnegan can't communicate with the federal partners. 

He said he worries there will be communication gaps when they end up working together later this spring and summer. 

“The government shutdown definitely does trickle down to us," he said.

On Monday, several democratic senators, including Colorado's Senator Michael Bennet sent a letter to President Trump saying "the failure to reopen government is putting people's lives at risk by undermining their ability to respond to wildfires and will only serve to delay critical forest restoration and safety projects." 

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