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Missoula Smokejumpers

What is smokejumping? Image of the Missoula Smokejumper logo.

Smokejumping was developed as a means of quickly reaching, parachuting to, and initial attacking fires in remote roadless areas.

The primary mission of smokejumpers is firefighting! Smokejumpers may be delivered to a fire via helicopter, vehicles, and by foot. Smokejumpers are a national resource and occasionally used as a 20-person Type I Crew.

Region 1 maintains a force of approximately 80 smokejumpers in Missoula, Montana; 29 in Grangeville, Idaho (GAC), and 24 in West Yellowstone, Montana. Grangeville and West Yellowstone both operate as independent bases, however, training and out-of-Region fire dispatches are conducted from Missoula.

Smokejumpers are dispatched to fires on Forest Service land in Montana, Idaho, and North Dakota, State-owned Forests, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Bureau of Land Management. Smokejumpers are often dispatched to other Regions top assist with fire suppression.

Early season dispatches are commonly to the desert southwest of New Mexico or north to Alaska.

What do jumpers do when there are no fires?

All smokejumpers are required to workout 1 to 1 and 1/2 hours a day depending on the time during the season. Missoula base facilities include a weight room, aerobic workout room and a 2 mile running course.

Daily work may include packing cargo boxes for fires, checking and packing parachutes, Maintenance and manufacturing of equipment, and other miscellaneous jobs.

If the fire season allows, some jumpers may assist in project work at outlying Ranger Districts. This commonly includes thinning, slashing, burning, trail maintenance, fence construction and timber work.

Jumpers are also used as tree climbers in New York and Chicago as well as other areas of the country for a variety of reasons from insect detection to seed cone picking.

What do smokejumpers do?

A smokejumper fire call begins with the arrival of a smokejumper request at the unit dispatch office.

Smokejumpers begin to suit up as the spotter, a smokejumper supervisor who will serve as jumpmaster on the flight, receives the request and plots the fire's location on the map. When suited up, the jumpers board the aircraft, which has been preloaded with firefighting cargo. Ten minutes after receiving the request, the aircraft taxis to the runway for take-off.

A typical jumper fire can vary in size and is usually located in mountainous terrain far from roads or easy access. Depending on the number and size of fires, 2 to 16 smokejumpers suit up quickly, load the airplane and fly to the fire. A "spotter" selects a safe jump spot, judges the wind and the jumpers exit, 2 at a time.

After jumpers parachute to the ground, cargo boxes are dropped with tools, food and equipment. The jumpers then control and mop-up the fire. Smokejumpers are expected to remain on the fire until it is declared out or the host unit makes the decision to release them. During this time the jumpers are self-sufficient and can be re-supplied from the jumper unit.

Once mop-up is completed or the jumpers are released, all the jump gear and equipment weighing roughly 100 pounds is either slung out via helicopter longline, packed out on mules, or carried out by the jumpers to the nearest road. This decision is made by the host unit and often depends on the severity of the fire season.