Life as a Grangeville Smokejumper

Uncertainty mixed with regimented routine describes the daily life of a smokejumper. A Grangeville jumper shows up to work unsure of what the day will bring, ready to load the Otter for a possible 14-day assignment. Every day begins with physical training because physical fitness is a priority for all jumpers. A high standard of physical fitness is imperative because it tunes the body for a rigorous shift on the fire line, keeps the mind sharp, and prevents injury. After roll call, everyone begins his or her daily duties, anxiously awaiting the siren which signals a fire call. Some jumpers head to the loft to pack and repair parachutes that came off a recent fire. Others head to the para-cargo bay to construct fire boxes that contain everything necessary to fight a fire for three days, including food, water, hand tools, and chainsaws. Still others head to the saw shack to rehab used fire tools and chainsaws. Every jumper has a job that keeps the Smokejumper base running smoothly and efficiently.

If the siren goes off, the first eight smokejumpers quickly head to the ready room where they quickly don their jumpsuit, harness, and parachutes. A fellow jumper checks their gear to make sure everything has been properly assembled and the eight jumpers load the aircraft. There they will get more information about where they have been assigned. That siren could signal a fire in the wilderness, a fire in a neighboring state, or even a boost of resources to one of their fellow smokejumper bases who is having a large fire bust. Their packs loaded with some simple personal necessities, every jumper has the gear to keep them happy in the woods and is ready for whatever assignment comes their way.

The plane loaded and propellers spinning, the Twin Otter takes off in the direction of the reported fire. As the plane nears the fire, the Spotter signals that the fire is just off the nose of the plane. With faces smashed against the tiny windows of the Otter, all eight jumpers gather intelligence about the fire, the jump spot, the wind conditions and begin making flight plans with their jump partner. After the spotter checks the wind speed and direction, the first two jumpers are told to get in the door. The jumpers receive a quick briefing and a slap on the left shoulder signals that it is time for the jumper to exit the aircraft. A quick five seconds goes by before the jumper’s parachute opens and the jumper takes an exciting flight to a remote part of the forest.

During fire season, things change fast and the smokejumpers remain flexible. An initial attack assignment could mean a night of digging and sawing hand line followed by a long hike out to the nearest road carrying 120 pounds of firefighting and parachute gear. A growing fire could mean two weeks of work as part of a Type III Team. Often, Grangeville jumpers with appropriate qualifications receive single-resource assignments on large fires around the west.

In the off-season, smokejumpers no longer have to be concerned with fire preparedness. Those jumpers that work at the base spend their time repairing parachutes from a busy fire season. Equipment for the next season is also manufactured at the base. Many jumpers continue fieldwork, working throughout the country on various resource management projects. From prescribed burning to arborist tree climbing in a search for the Asian Long Horn Beetle, winter work can be as diverse as the country seen throughout the jump season.