Animated Cartoon & Watercolor Honoring Smokejumpers
Brownielocks and The 3 Bears
To all volunteers who help fight wildfires!
(The image below is animated. The flames should flicker.)
Midi is the theme from
"Greatest American Hero" by Mike Post and Stephen Geyer
(Lyrics are at the bottom of the page if you want to sing along!)
I have read "Jumping Fire" and after doing so strongly feel that it is not appropriate for younger kids. I realize family values vary home to home. But I feel due to the gritty language (you'll hear the "F" word and "Sh**t a lot), descriptive details of some of the injuries the men have suffered, as well as the personal sexual relationships, I would say that this book is best fit for ages 15 and older.
It can be a very educational book for those interested in this career field.
It is also
well...speaking as a woman, strictly a man's viewpoint on some things.
I put in quotes direct comments from the book.
Fire" is slow, grasping and intense reading about one
smokejumper's life. The hardcover book is 448 pages done in
small print and took me a few weeks to read. After finishing the
book, I felt exhausted, as if I had spent the summer running from one
fire to another too. I also felt a little sad to hear of the
deaths of some of the men mentioned in the epilogue of the book.
I also felt (at
times) that I needed to take a long hot bath. The sweat, dirt, and
grime seems to jump off the pages and onto the reader. At other times I
was lost & confused, especially when it came to the technical issues
of the jumping gear.
what kind of a man becomes a smokejumper?
tradition, they're not true smokejumpers until they actually jump a
fire." Notice he doesn't say jump INTO a fire? People
often assume they jump into a fire. What smokejumpers really do is
try to jump near a fire, with the blessing of a good wind and Big Ernie
of course. ;)
Big Ernie is their God, while the Canadian geese seem to be their mascot. The reason isn't too clear, but many feel it's because of the geese's freedom of flight, their wildness living and their migratory lifestyle that creates a bond between them and the smokejumpers. I do not know how Big Ernie got his name.````
also states that NO ONE touches anyone else's jump gear except in
emergencies. Each is responsible for his own gear. Jumpers now use
rectangular parachutes. But some of the older jumpers had a
problem adjusting to them after using the round chutes for such a long
Injuries & Drowning
Most smokejumpers have to quit because of bad knees. Others get injured ankles, backs and shoulders (or all of the above). One-third get knocked unconscious at least once in their careers. While some sort of torn ligaments seem to affect 50% of them also. Others do get seriously hurt on the job, and surprisingly it isn't the fires that are the most danger to the men. The first danger is the trees themselves. Falling into a tree and becoming "skewered" is the biggest fear they face. So jumping out of the plane isn't their greatest fear as most of us assume. It's the fear of not having a good landing. Some jumpers not only have been stuck in the trees, others have caught bad winds and landed on the other side of the river where the fire wasn't (being literally stuck away from the group for food, etc. for days). One jumper has even landed on a moose! The one location they do not want to land is in the river (or lake). It's not that they don't know how to swim, but they carry packs of up to 200 lbs. and well, it's more like sink than swim. "During water-landing training, jumpers are told that their life expectancy in Alaska water is 15 minutes." Also, many of the waters are not clean, clear and sparkling like you see in photos. And during a fire, the waters can become filled with silt, debris etc. This stuff sticks to the jumpers clothing and can often drag down the best of swimmers. Oh, and in some cases the water is also freezing!
Some injuries become VERY painful until a medical helicopter can come and take them to treatment. "Until a few years ago, smokejumpers carried Demerol (synthetic morphine) in all the jump planes. That practice was an early victim of the war on drugs, and now new regulations disallow it. Spend one night in the wilderness with a badly injured friend, watching him suffer and you'll see what a travesty this policy is."
Spotters & Jumping
How a guy gets to be a spotter, I didn't really figure out from reading this book. But he's the man who analyzes the fire from above and might even have it fly around more than once until he can figure out where is the best place for the men to land. Knowing how the wind is (and how the men will drift) is the key. So the spotter sends out these "drift streamers" made of crepe paper, that are 20 feet long, 10 inches wide and weighted to drift the same as a smokejumper under a canopy. There are 3 drift streamers to a set: Bright Yellow, Red and Blue. The streamer altitude is 1,500 feet.
They jump in teams of 2
men each. A two-man team is called "stick."
And the first man is the first stick and the second is the second
stick. The "stick" (1 & 2) jumpers go out at
the same time. They keep it two-by-two to help minimize the danger
of mid-air collisions when landing in small areas.
Ever wonder what's
going through their minds as they fall from the sky?
(They have to know this by
heart. By the end of the book some of you will too!)
But until you get to the fire, many smokejumpers try to catch a nap if possible because they never know when they'll be able to get some rest when they get there.
Tanker Planes & That Red Stuff! ;)
There is a base for the smokejumpers to stay until they are called to a fire. There is also a base for the tanker planes and their pilots to stay also. From reading the book, both of these "standby" bases are not the most pristine facilities. However, the tanker planes during a busy fire season earn tons of money! "During peak periods these planes will fly fires day and night, earning their owners upward of $15,000 per day." On the other hand, more tanker pilots have died fighting fires, than smokejumpers. It's a more dangerous job. "Since 1958 over a hundred have been killed in the line of duty. Simply put, they have buried a lot of their friends. They know it. Smokejumpers will tell you that the tanker pilots are the real heroes of the wild land fire fighting. "
We've all seen the
tanker planes flying over the fires dumping that red stuff down. I've
often wondered, "So is it landing on the
firefighters or do they leave before the plane drops the
"The retardant is contained in individual tanks in the belly of the aircraft. These tanks are sealed by hydraulic doors, called gates. ... In Alaska, the fire retardant of choice is Phos-Chek. Phos-Chek is primarily water, bentonite clay and ammonium phosphate fertilizer mixed with red colorant. Retardant is dropped from various heights depending on the restrictiveness of the topography. Falling from 200 ft. it disperses in the air and comes down like a muddy rain. Drop areas are always cleared of people, since sometimes it comes down in lumps big enough to be lethal."
So, does it land on the smokejumpers?
.... "I hugged the tree tightly as the retardant rained down all around me, smelling salty and cool like the sea....It is best to get completely clear of the drop zone. Not only is it messy to get drenched with retardant, it can be life threatening. A load from a DC-7 weighs more than 27,000 lbs. The 3,000 gallons of retardant is traveling approximately 130 mph when released. If the load is dropped too low, trees 8" to 12" in diameter can be ripped out of the ground like matchsticks. In more open areas, low drops rip out sections of tundra 10-15 feet wide for a 100 feet, clar down to permafrost, two to three feet below the surface."
Just when is it determined that the smokejumpers need help from the tanker pilots? And when to send in the planes?
Since it's a more costly way of fire fighting than paying smokejumpers.... "Available manpower is the key factor when using retardant. If people can't get into the area right after the drop and take advantage of it, it may not be worth dropping. Aerial retardant works in 3 major ways to cool a fire. It knocks the flames down physically. It coats the fuels -- tree tops, branches, brush, grass --- with a thin layer of watery, red mud, thus providing a barrier between the fire and fuel. Lastly, it immediately raises the humidity in the surrounding area. Higher humidity is the significant factor for maybe only half an hour, but that is usually enough time to allow us to work in close to the fire and take advantage of the effect. Many fires would simply be too dangerous to move in on without the cooling aid of aerial fire retardant."
So how environmentally safe is all this red stuff? "The retardant chemicals have no apparent adverse effects when dropped on land, and we are extremely careful to keep them out of any natural body of water...... Retardant pilots, especially the old hands, are good at making tactical decisions on their own. Some are excellent. Even though they do all their fire fighting from the cockpit of an airplane, they've developed a keen sense of what coverage levels will suppress fires of varying intensities. There's not one that will tell you he isn't still learning, and it doesn't take long to tell a rookie from a veteran either."
I know you're curious
about some of the personal hygiene. Aren't we all? ;)
"There's and old
green Willys station wagon that used to sit out in the weeds along the
road. Back then the area had no plumbing, so the jumpers dug a
hole and moved the old wagon over it and put a few boards across where
the seat had been. Nice! Just like that the old Willys had become our
own town and country two-holer, complete with a roll of toilet paper on
the gearshift lever. The preferred hole was the one behind the
wheel. That way, when the locals came driving by, the jumper doing
his business had only to fake and interest in the old station wagons and
no one would know better. Those were the old days. Things are different
now. There is plumbing, even showers."
Believe it or not,
besides the fear of jumping into a tree (getting stuck or stabbed) the
second greatest danger they face are from the locals of the
Food at the base camp is pretty good, especially Galena, AK as Murry says. He also says "the cooks are beautiful." But, while fighting fires, the men are eating all kinds of stuff...K-Rations, food dropped from supply planes, fish they catch and the items they have packed with them. Many pack foods high in sugar and carbohydrates. Junk food seems to be their main course many times. And, in one case Murry describes shoving some instant coffee granules into his mouth, taking a chug of water, swishing it around and then swallowing. Talk about a caffeine boost! But I often wonder if their knees don't give out, why their stomachs don't (acid reflux, ulcers, etc.) give out first from the way they eat and drink? They're also munching aspirin (without water a lot). In one chapter, he packed a potato and an onion in his jump suit to eat later. I have no idea why. Does the potato bake while he's near a fire? So he's cooking his dinner while he's fighting the fire? Or is it to keep it protected from the bears. (See above)
Occasionally they get a
few days off, get to go into the local town and eat a good meal at a
restaurant or lodge.
Family and Social Life
He says it's a lonely life. Most of the time it's sitting and waiting to be called to that fire. The men spend the days sleeping, cleaning, reading, writing letters, talking about women and doing what is referred to as male bonding.
I got the impression that not everyone really likes everyone's personality, but deep down they all have a brotherly love for each other because they all love what they do no matter how much they complain.
Murry states, "The suicide rate is high among smokejumpers." And most of the suicides occur in the off-season when they are away from their fellow jumpers. Hmmm?
Many jumpers are married. Many rookies and snookies are not. But for those who start the fire season unattached their seems to be this rule, "If you don't find yourself a girlfriend by June 1st, you may as well forget it." Ha!
Murry did. A girl named Sally. I won't spoil the romance of this book so that's all I'm going to say.
But in closing I'd like
to say that as a woman I do not agree with the men who seem to feel that
it's the "job as a smokejumper" that is ruining their
relationships with women. They seem to feel that the weeks apart
on a fire mess up their love life. Since there are many men whose
jobs take them away from their loved ones and families for weeks (i.e.
military, CIA, FBI, field engineers etc.) the fact
that Murry is single and the oldest smokejumper to me is not the job's
fault. From reading the book, my view is that loyal husbands found
their wives cheating on them while they were off fighting fires, at the
same time some loyal wives were home while their smoke jumping husbands
were off committing adultery say with a local waitress in a cafe close
to the fire. As I read the book I was thinking, "Well all we
need is for the loyal wives to meet the loyal smokejumper husbands and
all would live happily ever after...in most cases."
With this is mind, the
only discomforting fact I find in this book is the continual whining by
the author about his poor social or love life through the years. It is
my own personal opinion that Murry is in love with being in love.
He's as thrilled with fighting the flames of a forest fire as he is with
the flames of passion. And once the "flames of passion"
are kindled to say smoldering embers, well, he gets well..... You
read the book and find out!
Smokejumper Talk printed by permission from Murry Taylor from his book "Jumping Fire."
(See below for book information)
Truckers have their
talk, well so do smokejumpers.
Below are some phrases or terms the guys use as they
jump the jumps, fight the flames and talk the talk!
planes and people that coordinate air operations over a fire.
aircraft that drop fire-retardant chemicals.
to purposely influence the direction or rate of fire spread.
Interagency Fire Center. Boise, Idaho.
smokejumper god. A deity with a rather twisted sense of humor, justice,
and fair play. Determines good and bad deals for jumpers.
fire behavior, rapid spread, mass ignition of large areas.
check of jumper's gear, performed by jump partner prior to jumping.
to burn areas between control lines and main fire; denies main fire of
fuel. A tactic used once control lines are established.
term for the Alaskan wilderness.
period of lightning fire activity.
|Cat line||Fire line
constructed with crawler tractors (bulldozers).
handle used to cut away from a malfunctioned main canopy. Also called
|Contained||A fire is
contained when its spread has been halted by control lines or natural
|Controlled||A fire is
controlled when enough work has been done to insure it will not escape.
|Crown fire||A fire
burning hot enough to continuously spread through the tops of trees.
demobilization. The action of leaving a fire once it is out.
pieces of colored crepe paper used to determine wind drift before
jumping a fire.
parachute that first stabilizes jumpers as they fall from the plane then
pulls the main canopy out of the deployment bag once the drogue release
handle is pulled.
|Drogue release handle||See
above. Once widely known as the rip cord.
|Extended attack||Work done
after the initial effort has failed to stop a fire. For jumpers, usually
the second or third day.
|Fat boy box||A
cardboard box that comes in the fire packs and contains packaged and
canned goods. Jumper rations for the first three days.
embers or chucks of burning, airborne material.
conflagration of fire, a blowup.
|Flanks (of a fire)||The side
boundaries of a fire looking from the tail toward the head.
flares used to light burnouts and backfires.
and most active part of a fire; determines the direction the fire is
device on a helicopter, which is capable of starting fires.
arrangement: tent, rain fly, parachute, etc.
fire crews; highly motivated and well trained. Mostly used on large,
effort to stop a fire.
rotating list that determines the order in which jumpers are assigned to
where chutes are rigged and maintained.
talk for the contiguous United States.
talk for being in love. Being moosey, feeling moosey, having moose eyes,
stage of fire fighting, digging up all roots and burning material;
putting out the last of all embers and coals.
fire retardant dropped by aircraft. Also called retardant or slurry.
aircraft, the final flight path before jumpers jump. For jumpers, the
final flight path as they descend into a jump spot.
desk. The nerve center of any smokejumper base. The jump list, aircraft
list, and all other matters of business are managed in operations.
group, those who work to deliver supplies to fires by aircraft and
parachute. As a product, supplies delivered in such a manner.
training. As part of their regular daily routine' smokejumpers do one
hour of PT each morning.
tool. An ax with a grub hoe on the Opposite end.
|Rat-holing (also ratting)||Sneaking
prized food items and hiding them from the rest of the group.
rations, C-rations, MREs (Meals-Ready-to-Eat).
|Ready room||Room in
smokejumper facility where jumpers suit up for departure to fires.
that is declared out, then later rekindles.
hand line, made quickly to temporarily hold a fire until the line can be
report of current fires, personnel assigned, and resource allocations.
Also includes weather forecasts.
left after logging; limbs, cull logs, treetops, and stumps. Can also be
natural forest debris.
where the fire crosses an established control line.
tree, still standing.
|Speed racks||Racks on
which jump gear is pre-positioned to facilitate fast suit up.
started outside the main fire area by flying sparks or embers.
who directs the jumping from the plane.
|Spruce bough||The top
cut from a small (four- to five-inch diameter) black spruce. Used to
swat down flames on Alaska fires.
aircraft, when the airspeed gets so slow that it can no longer maintain
flight attitude and begins to fall. In a square parachute, when the
canopy is slowed down so much that it can no longer maintain flight, and
it begins to rock forward and back radically.
|Standby shack||The main
smokejumper building. Includes loft, ready room, tool room, weight room,
paracargo bay, etc.
|Steering lines||The right
and left lines used to steer a parachute.
|Stevens connection||A short
nylon line that connects the reserve deployment handle to the left riser
of the main parachute. When a main malfunctions and has to be cut away,
the Stevens automatic pulls the reserve handle and initiates the
deployment of the reserve.
end or initial part of a fire. Usually spreads slowly at lower intensity
than flanks or head.
Here are some other smokejumper related websites we recommend you visit:
Gulch 1949 Fire -
"Greatest American Hero"
This is our
dedication to all who died on
Go Back to other October observances:
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