Some say you have to be crazy to jump out of an airplane to fight a forest fire, but smokejumpers can’t wait for the next fire call.
Smokejumping was first proposed in 1934 by T.V. Pearson, the U.S. Forest Service Intermountain Regional Forester, as a means to quickly provide initial attack on forest fires. By parachuting in, self-sufficient firefighters could arrive fresh and ready for the strenuous work of fighting fires in rugged terrain. The smokejumper program began in 1939 as an experiment in the Pacific Northwest Region, and the first fire jump was made in 1940 on Idaho’s Nez Perce National Forest in the Northern Region. In 1981, the first woman smokejumper in the nation successfully completed the training program at the McCall Smokejumper Base in Idaho.
Today, Smokejumpers are a national resource. Jumpers travel all over the country, including Alaska, to provide highly-trained, experienced firefighters and leadership for quick initial attack on wildland fires in remote areas. Fire fighting tools, food and water are dropped by parachute to the firefighters after they land near the fire, making them self-sufficient for the first 48 hours. Most smokejumpers work from late spring through early fall.
The U.S. Forest Service has about 320 smokejumpers that work from seven bases located in McCall and Grangeville, Idaho; Redding, California; West Yellowstone and Missoula, Montana; Winthrop, Washington; and Redmond, Oregon. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) also has smokejumpers at two bases, one in Boise, Idaho and the other in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Aircraft that are currently used in U.S. Forest Service smokejumper operations include Short Brothers C-23As; DHC-6 Twin Otters, and; Dornier D0228s. The U.S. Forest Service is in the process of bringing into service C23B+/SD3-60s that are being transferred to the agency from the Department of Defense. For safety, there is always a spotter on board communicating essential information about wind, fire activity, and terrain to the pilot and the jumpers.
Smokejumper duties can be hazardous and extremely arduous. They must have extensive previous experience in wildland firefighting, and be skilled in using the tools of the trade. Smokejumpers must be in excellent physical condition and possess a high degree of emotional stability and mental alertness. There are also some height, weight, and health requirements.
During the spring training period for new smokejumpers, and refresher training for experienced smokejumpers, they practice the basics of their craft, such as aircraft exiting procedures, parachute maneuvering and emergency procedures, parachute landing rolls, timber let-down procedures, parachute and cargo retrieval, and tree climbing. Some training sites even have “virtual reality” parachute jump simulators to provide on-the-ground practice, with an experienced smokejumper at the computer.
After training is complete, and during periods of fire inactivity, smokejumpers may be assigned to various natural resource management projects. These may include brush piling, prescribed burning and other fuels management projects, construction and maintenance of facilities, or trail maintenance. Their expertise is also used for assignments such as Remote Automated Weather Station coordinators, Fire Safety Specialists, Fire Management Officer positions on National Forests, technical writers and work with other agencies, such as the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) effort to control invasions of long-horned beetles in eastern states.
Recruitment period: If you are interested in applying for the 2019 fire season visit USA Jobs for job openings. You will need to create an account (if you don't have one already) and an applicant profile. After you create your profile type in the word 'smokejumper' in the search bar to see a list of current job announcments. When applying select all smokejumer bases you are interested in.
Selected applicants should receive an offer of employment early 2019. Upon reporting for duty, you must satisfactorily complete five weeks of intensive training in parachute jumping, physical conditioning and fire suppression.
Helpful Hints for Applying
- You must indicate the base(s) you are applying for.
- Before submitting your application be sure that you have marked all boxes and check all basic qualifications on your application for correct answers.
- If you are new to smokejumping make sure you are applying for a GS-5 rookie smokejumper position.
- Make sure to supply your e-mail address on your application in order to receive confirmation of your application acceptance and any possible hiring correspondence.