What does the government shutdown mean for rural Oklahoma firefighters?

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GRADY COUNTY, Okla. – Oklahoma officials are bracing for possible funding problems for the state’s rural firefighting services if the partial government shutdown continues.

The shutdown, now in its 31st day, is the longest government shutdown in history. Fire chief Perry Wenzel with the Grady County Fire Department said, though they are not feeling the pinch right now, the biggest concern is for rural fire departments in the event of a wildfire and if federal dollars or assistance is needed.

“That could be a big issue because some of these fires, they have hundreds of thousands of dollars tied up in those fires — all of the fire departments in the state of Oklahoma,” Wenzel said. “In your smaller departments and stuff, it really puts a task on them because you got to spend all of your money going out to those things if they don’t reimbursed in a timely manner, it really puts them in a big bind.”

Wenzel said the wildfire season in Oklahoma generally spans between December and May.

“The fuel load is there. We could have a wild land out fire outbreak anytime right now, but it’s going to create a lot more problems for us this year, because it’s so wet, so we’re going to put people in more danger because of all these vehicles that are going to get stuck out there,” he said. “Whenever it gets to be a real high outlook is whenever our relative humidity drops. It drops, and it gets below 30 percent. It really gets critical, anything below 20 percent. It really gets critical and the wind, you know.”

Sheri Nickel with the Oklahoma State Firefighters Association told News 4 on Monday that the biggest impact the shutdown has had on their organization has to do with federal grants.

“For instance, OSFA is currently administering a $2.1 million SAFER grant for the recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters, and we’re deep into the training of volunteers but, right now, we’re not getting our funding like we should,” Nickel said. “We, as an organization, have to upfront the money to pay for the training.”

President Trump’s announcement on shutdown 

Over the weekend, President Donald Trump announced his proposed deal to end the government shutdown. It included three years of protections for immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children and those who fled certain countries and are covered under the “temporary protected status” program.

In exchange, the president wants $5.75 billion over five years for a border barrier.

Trump has described the plan as “a common sense compromise both parties should embrace.”

“This plan solves the immediate crisis, and it is a horrible crisis,” he said. “And, it provides humanitarian relief, delivers real border security and immediately reopens our federal government.”

However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called the offer “unacceptable” and a “non-starter” as she insists the government must reopen before border negotiations.

“The president taken pride in shutting down the government. Now, he must take action to open up government,” Pelosi wrote in a statement.

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