Shutdown forces Oklahoma firm to lay off firefighters

choleta fire government shutdown
Oklahoma-based Chloeta Fire, which gets 80% of its business from the government, has already laid off a dozen workers because of the shutdown.

While the shutdown has furloughed federal workers, small businesses that work closely with the government are also being forced to let people go.

Mark Masters owns a firefighting firm and has already laid off a dozen employees in the week since the government shut down.

Based in Oklahoma City, Chloeta Fire specializes in battling wildfires, emergency fire response and wildfire preventions. It's a seasonal business -- most of its work is done in the summer and fall -- and 80% of its business is from government contracts. The contracts are for work across the country, particularly in the western half of the country.

Federal agencies typically contract wildfire prevention and emergency response to private firms, said Masters. When the government shut down last Tuesday, his contracts with the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and some federally funded state contracts were all frozen.

Related: Small business owners already hit by shutdown

Chloeta Fire has lost tens of thousands of dollars in the last week alone, and if the impasse in Washington drags on much longer, Masters said he'll have to deal with a "pretty severe financial problem."

Many of his government contracts pay invoices weekly, so not only has Chloeta not had any new business, Masters said no payments have come in since last week.

"There's no one to process our payments or administer them," said Masters, who left his job as a federal wildland firefighter in 2009 to start his firm.

Related: Shutdown threatens small businesses in tiny Northwest city.

In the summer, Masters hires about 30 full-time firefighters; in the fall, he has about 20. After the layoffs, Masters said he's down to less than half the people he usually has on staff.

If the shutdown doesn't end soon, his business could lose money this year.

"Our entire revenue for the year is derived in a very short time frame, and that's the two fire seasons," said Masters. "Each day that we are down puts us further behind in hitting our targets."

Beyond the financial burden, Masters worries the shutdown will create a public safety threat.

"The federal emergency response has been hindered because of the shutdown," he said. "I know of essential firefighting staff that have also been furloughed in our district."

The regional Forest Service offices could not be reached for comment.

Full coverage on government shutdown.

-- Are you a small business employee who was recently laid off because of the shutdown? Email Parija Kavilanz.

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