Working as a Smoke Jumper

Smoke jumpers are trained wildland firefighters who are usually deployed into remote areas. The goal of these teams is to get on scene shortly after a wildfire has started to attempt to contain it.

The longer the fire is burning, the more likely it is to spread and damage more area.

The team is transported by plane to the area and they use parachutes to get onto the ground. It is less expensive to use fixed-wing aircraft than helicopters for this purpose, since this type of transportation can carry larger crews and their equipment than helicopters can. This type of work has some rather unique risks associated with it, since crews are working in remote areas. If someone is injured as the result of a parachuting into the area or while fighting the fire, getting help is going to be a challenge. It may be several hours before rescuers will be able to reach the team. As as result, this is very dangerous work.

Most fires that smokejumpers deal with are relatively small (measured in a few acres) and are located in mountainous areas. Once the team reaches the ground, they use the same type of equipment that other wildland firefighters use, including chain saws, shovels, and pulaskis (a tool with an axe on one side and a flat blade on the other). They also bring in portable pumps. If the smoke jumpers are not able to contain the fire, then other crews, such as fireline handcrews or hotshots, are called in to assist.

If you want to become a smoke jumper, you must be someone who is very comfortable working outside in less-than-comfortable conditions. Smoke jumpers wear padded suits and heavy boots during the jump to protect them if they happen to collide with a tree when attempting to land. At least 12 months of wildland firefighting experience is required before you can apply for a position through either the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service. You don’t need to have jump experience before applying; parachute training is part of the training process if you are accepted.

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