What are Smokejumpers?
Smokejumpers are wildland firefighters trained to parachute into fires. Their primary mission is fire suppression and with the speed, range, and capacity of their fixed-wing aircraft, smokejumpers are capable of quickly delivering as few as two or as many as 12 firefighters with equipment and supplies, directly to the fire in a single trip.
As primary firefighters, smokejumpers may travel to the fire by parachute, helicopter, vehicle, by foot, or whatever mode of transportation is most efficient. Smokejumpers are a versatile national resource and are commonly used in small teams and as 20-person Type 1 Fire crews. Their high level of training, experience, and qualifications enable smokejumpers to provide leadership such as Type 3 Incident Commanders, Division Supervisors, Strike Team Leaders, and Air Tactical Group Supervisors on fire assignments and fire teams. Smokejumpers are also called upon to provide rescue and first-aid services on fires and other emergencies in rugged and remote locations.
Who are Smokejumpers?
Smokejumpers are professional firefighters. Many have over 10 seasons of fire experience and some have over 20. Many have advanced degrees in fire management, ecology, forestry, engineering, sociology, biology, and various other sciences. Smokejumpers are a varied group coming from diverse backgrounds. Seasonal employees include teachers, students, ski industry professionals, construction workers, trades technicians, missionaries, security personnel, artists, National Guard, doctors, and lawyers.
What Kind of Training is Required?
Most new McCall Smokejumpers are already very experienced firefighters, having been recruited from other top fire crews such as helitack, engine, and hotshot crews across the nation (see recruitment page). All smokejumpers must be in excellent physical condition because of the demanding nature of the job. Smokejumper recruits learn the basics of rugged terrain parachuting during an intense five week training course in smokejumper and fire management operations. Returning jumpers receive a two week refresher course. Crew Boss and Type 4 Incident Commander fire qualifications, and an FAA Parachute Rigger certification for every smokejumper is one of the training goals at the McCall Smokejumper base. Advanced fire-related skills such as Division Supervisor, C-Faller Fireline Explosives Blaster, Incident Commander, or Prescribed Fire Burn Boss are developed on an individual basis. McCall smokejumpers attend 8-24 hours of medical training during their annual refresher. Many Smokejumpers go on to achieve their EMT-B certification.
What Do Smokejumpers Do When There Are No Fires?
Smokejumpers can spend their entire summer on fire assignments away from their home base. However, when not on fire assignments, smokejumpers maintain a high state of readiness. Daily work may include packing cargo boxes for fires; inspecting, repairing, and packing parachutes; equipment manufacturing and maintenance for fire and other forest crews; fleet and facility maintenance; fire suppression training; and other miscellaneous jobs which keep them readily available for a quick fire response. Smokejumpers are also required to exercise daily and maintain a high level of physical fitness.
When smokejumpers are not putting out wildfires, they are often involved with prescribed fire. Under the right conditions, fire is a natural and healthy part of good ecosystem management. Smokejumpers work with fire managers on planning and implementing prescribed fire to restore and maintain healthy forests and reduce the risks of dangerous wildfire.
If the fire season permits, smokejumpers assist in project work on local National Forests and Ranger Districts. This work commonly includes prescribed fire planning and implementation,brush disposal, fence construction, trail maintenance, radio and Remote Automated Weather Stations (RAWS) maintenance, timber work, fisheries work, forest rehabilitation, and tree cone collection.
What Are the Terms of Smokejumper Employment?
Smokejumpers are employed by the federal government. Although smokejumping often provides a career target or goal for many wildland firefighters, career opportunities are limited. Most smokejumpers are temporary or seasonal employees that work the fire season from April through October. A few, mainly supervisors, have permanent extended or full-time status and work year round on equipment, training, prescribed fire, and administration. A smokejumper earns around $16.00 per hour while a smokejumper foreman earns about $24.00 per hour. Smokejumpers are paid nothing extra for making parachute jumps; however, they do receive hazard pay equivalent to 25 percent of their base pay when working on an uncontrolled wildfire. Smokejumpers must provide their own boots, watch, and knife for the job. Smokejumpers may be reimbursed for boots up to $300.00 once every three years. When firefighters are away working fires in travel status, they are either provided with meals or reimbursed for the cost of meals taken.
Smokejumpers are required to pass an annual physical examination by a licensed physician. Medical attention and hospitalization is provided if firefighters are injured in the line of duty, and if periods of disability result from such accidents, they are provided with compensation based on their income.
What Kind of Facilities Are at the McCall Smokejumper Base?
A parachute loft towers above the two-story Smokejumper Base located at a U.S. Forest service airport ramp at the McCall City Airport. The downstairs area houses the paracargo bays, ready room, smokejumper offices, operations center, and the parachute loft with rigging tables and sewing machines. Upstairs are the training rooms, a conference room, the Payette National Forest Dispatch office and fire-training library. Smokejumper parachute training facilities are located in the yard outside. There are pilot offices, showers, a dressing room, saw shop, aircraft maintenance shop and a weight training room located nearby. The McCall Tanker Base and McCall Helibase are also located at the airport just adjacent to the jumper base. Government housing consisting of barracks and several married housing units with kitchen facilities are located a few blocks north of the airport.