Who are Smokejumpers?

Quck answer

A smokejumper is a highly trained firefighter who parachutes into remote areas to combat wildfires. They are a specialized group of firefighters who are skilled in both parachuting and firefighting techniques. Smokejumpers are typically deployed to areas that are difficult to access by ground, such as mountainous or wilderness areas. They work in teams and are responsible for quickly and efficiently extinguishing fires in these remote locations. Smokejumpers undergo rigorous physical and mental training to prepare for their demanding job. They play a vital role in wildfire management and are often called upon to respond to some of the most challenging fire situations.


In case of a fire in a town, firefighters arrive in a fire truck to extinguish the fire. But what happens when a large fire occurs in the wilderness? Have you ever wondered how they put out fires that are far away from civilization?

Some forests and wilderness areas are located miles away from towns and cities. So, what happens if a fire breaks out in such a remote location with no roads for firefighters to access the scene with a fire truck?

Concerned about the risks of fires in faraway places, a new method to fight wildfires called “smokejumping” was developed over 70 years ago. Smokejumpers are firefighters who jump out of airplanes and use parachutes to land in remote wilderness areas to combat fires. This occupation is considered one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.

In 1934, T.V. Pearson, an employee of the U.S. Forest Service, came up with the idea that the most effective and fastest way to reach remote fires was by flying firefighters close to the fire. From there, they could parachute in and be ready to fight the fire without having to walk long distances through rough terrain.

The first smokejumping trials took place in 1939 in Washington’s Methow Valley. People were parachuted into various types of forests and rugged land to prove the feasibility of this approach.

The following year, smokejumping was implemented in Winthrop, Washington, and Ninemile Camp, Montana. On July 12, 1940, Rufus Robinson and Earl Cooley made the first real fire jump at Rock Pillar near Marten Creek in Idaho’s Nez Perce National Forest.

Today, well-trained smokejumpers can reach wildfires in remote areas shortly after they start. If they arrive before the fire becomes too large, they can effectively fight it and prevent it from endangering the public.

Smokejumpers are also utilized by other countries, including Russia, Mongolia, and Canada. Russia has the highest number of smokejumpers, employing several thousand more than any other country.

In the firefighting process, airplanes drop smokejumpers near the fire, and then drop firefighting supplies, food, and water nearby using parachutes. These supplies are used to set up camps where the smokejumpers will reside for the next few days while fighting the wildfire.

There are numerous highly-trained smokejumpers who work in different locations owned by the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management, such as Alaska, Idaho, California, Montana, Washington, and Oregon. They play a crucial role in fighting fires in remote areas across the country.

Smokejumpers face a challenging job that involves jumping out of airplanes, parachuting into forests, and battling fires. The best smokejumpers are physically and mentally fit, capable of independent thinking, and quick to react to sudden events.

Smokejumpers undergo special training to ensure their safety while fighting fires. They have a similar level of safety as ground-based wilderness firefighters. Smokejumpers are extremely cautious, which significantly reduces the frequency and severity of injuries or fatalities.

Have you ever considered becoming a smokejumper? What are your reasons for considering or not considering this job? Do you think it would be a frightening occupation? We express gratitude towards smokejumpers for their efforts in combating wildfires!

Give it a Try

Are you prepared to battle a fire? Ask a friend or family member to assist you in exploring the following activities:

  • You may not be ready to parachute out of a plane to fight wildfires just yet. However, there are steps you can take around your house to ensure safety and prevent fires. Visit the U.S. Fire Administration for Kids website to learn about home fire safety, smoke alarms, and fire escape techniques.
  • Interested in learning more about the fire trucks you often see in your town? Go online and discover everything about Fire Trucks with Sparky! Watch videos and read to expand your knowledge on the different types of fire trucks and their operations!
  • If your home were to catch fire, would you know what to do? Would you know how to escape? Help your family create a plan that will ensure everyone knows the necessary steps in case of a fire emergency. Visit the online resource “How To Make a Home Fire Escape Plan” to learn how to design a plan for safe evacuation from each area of your home.

Sources of Wonder

  • http://www.fs.fed.us/fire/people/smokejumpers/
  • https://smokejumpers.com/index.php (accessed 6 Apr., 2023)

FAQ

1. What is a smokejumper?

A smokejumper is a highly trained firefighter who specializes in parachuting into remote areas to combat wildfires. They are typically part of a specialized unit within a firefighting agency, such as the United States Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management. Smokejumpers are known for their unique skills and ability to quickly respond to fires in rugged and inaccessible terrain.

2. What are the qualifications to become a smokejumper?

To become a smokejumper, individuals must meet certain physical and mental requirements. They must be in excellent physical condition, as the job requires extensive hiking, carrying heavy equipment, and parachuting into remote areas. Smokejumpers also undergo rigorous training in firefighting techniques, parachute jumping, and wilderness survival. Additionally, they must possess strong decision-making skills, the ability to work well in a team, and a commitment to safety.

3. What is the role of a smokejumper during a wildfire?

During a wildfire, smokejumpers play a crucial role in the initial attack. Once a fire is reported, they are deployed to the scene via aircraft. Upon landing, smokejumpers assess the fire’s behavior and determine the best course of action. They may use hand tools, such as chainsaws and pulaskis, to build firebreaks and contain the fire. They also work alongside other firefighters to suppress the flames and protect structures and natural resources.

4. What are the challenges of being a smokejumper?

Being a smokejumper comes with its own set of challenges. The job is physically demanding and often requires working long hours in extreme weather conditions. Smokejumpers must be prepared to face hazardous terrain, thick smoke, and unpredictable fire behavior. They may be away from home for extended periods, as wildfires can occur anywhere and at any time. Additionally, smokejumpers must constantly stay updated on the latest firefighting techniques and safety protocols to ensure their own well-being and the success of their missions.

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