The Missoula Smokejumper Base is located at the Aerial Fire Depot adjacent to the Missoula International Airport in Missoula, Montana. The base is situated at the west end of the airport along with the U.S. Forest Service Northern Region Fire Cache, the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory, the Northern Region Training Center, and the Missoula Technology and Development Center.
Thre are approximately 75 smokejumpers, consisting of men and women from diverse backgrounds, work at the base. Ranging in age from early 20’s to 50’s, these are all dedicated and professional individuals who are highly trained and experienced firefighters.
What is smokejumping?
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 1 Crew.
Region 1 maintains a force of approximately 80 smokejumpers in Missoula, Montana; 29 in Grangeville, Idaho; 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 to assist with fire suppression.
Early season dispatches are commonly to the desert southwest of New Mexico or north to Alaska.
What do a day-in-the-life of a smokejumper look like?
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 10 smokejumpers suit up quickly, load the airplane and fly to the fire. The 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 via aircraft from the jumper unit.
Once mop-up is completed or the jumpers are released, all the jump gear and equipment weighing roughly 100 pounds per jumper 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.
What do smokejumpers do when they aren't jumping fires?
All smokejumpers are required to workout 1 to 1 1/2 hours a day to maintain a high level of physical fitness. The Missoula base has a weight room, aerobic workout room and a two-mile running course.
Daily work may include packing cargo boxes for fires, checking and packing parachutes, maintenance and manufacturing of equipment and other miscellaneous tasks. If the fire season allows, some jumpers may assist in project work on a National Forest. This commonly includes timber work, trail maintenance and fence contruction jobs.
Smokejumpers are also used for staffing our of region projects or work details. These include prescribed fire projects across the country, field and classroom instructor positions, hazardous fuel reduction, tree climbing, forest thinning projects and more.
they may also work on incident command teams responding to national disasters such as hurricane relief.
Missoula Smokejumper Base
Aerial Fire Depot
5765 West Broadway
Missoula, MT 59808