Smokejumpers are experienced wildland firefighters who fly to fires via airplane and parachute as closely as they can to a fire. Smokejumpers can get to remote fires safely and quickly, helping keep high-risk fires small.
The United States has about 450 jumpers at nine smokejumper bases across the western U.S. (Conversely, Russia uses about 4,000 jumpers.)
Boise, ID and Fairbanks, AK are the two BLM jump bases. The USFS has seven jump bases (Winthrop, WA; Redmond, OR; Redding, CA; McCall, ID; Grangeville, ID; Missoula, MT; and West Yellowstone, MT).
Smokejumping in the U.S. dates back to 1939. The first operational fire jump occurred in 1940 on the Nez Perce National Forest in Idaho.
The Boise jump base employs some 75-80 jumpers every season. During the fire season, these jumpers are based out of satellite locations in the Great Basin, depending on where the need is.
When a smokejumper leaves the airplane, he or she is wearing about 85 pounds of equipment. Some of that weight is safety equipment for the jump, some parachute gear, and some used for firefighting. Tools and equipment (sleeping bags, water, chainsaws, etc.) get thrown from the plane under a cargo chute as soon as the jumpers are on the ground.
Smokejumpers are tested to suit up in two minutes or less. The load of jumpers takes about eight minutes to get suited up and into the air after getting a dispatch.
The smokejumper’s reserve parachute has an automatic device (works on barometric pressure) that deploys the parachute if the jumper is unconscious.
Smokejumpers require special training and physical fitness rivaled only by elite military units. Once they have completed their mission on a fire, jumpers usually have to pack out their gear—which typically weighs 120 pounds.