Redmond smoke jumpers train for fire season

The Bend, Oregon Bulletin has an interesting piece about the Redmond, Oregon smokejumpers getting ready for the fire season. Check out the whole article, but here is how it begins:

Get set to jump

Fire season is just around the corner, and the forecast is calling for a hot, dry summer. For the 50 smokejumpers who call the Redmond Air Center home, that means some practice is in order.

A dark speck fell out of the plane as it swooped 1500 feet over Glaze Meadow, near Black Butte.

The smokejumper fell for less than a second before her parachute streaked out behind her, catching the air and popping open.

With clear skies and crisp views of the Cascades as a backdrop, the smokejumper toggled strings to navigate the blue and white chute toward the target — a bright orange X laid out on the meadow. In a full jumpsuit and helmet, she touched down just several yards away, curling up and rolling to absorb the blow as the parachute settled to the ground.

“It felt good,” Jesse Haury, 25, of Bend, said moments after her first jump of the season. “It came back really fast.”

Haury and 49 other smokejumpers based at the Redmond Air Center began refresher training last week in preparation for the coming wildfire season, reviewing the skills they need to drop in on — and extinguish — remote blazes.

“We go through and simulate everything we would normally do in a jump,” said Bill Selby, the smokejumper program manager at the Redmond Air Center.

That includes first aid and CPR training, physical ability tests, firefighting skills, practice jumps, techniques for climbing trees to retrieve equipment, emergency procedures and more.

“You do things repetitively until they do it without even thinking about it,” Selby said.

With all the review that goes into smokejumping — first with an intensive rookie training, and then with annual refresher training — jumping out of planes becomes a part of a smokejumper’s muscle memory, said K.T. Scheer, 29, of Hood River, who is starting her second season.

“It’s pretty much all training,” she said, before heading off to carry a 45-pound pack for 3 miles within 45 minutes.

But first, on Wednesday morning, under near-perfect conditions, she took a practice jump onto Glaze Meadow.

“There’s always the first bit of jitters, but I think it went well,” she said.