The view from under a parachute canopy

Hastings fire in Alaska, May 31, 2011. Two smokejumpers approach landing zone. Photo: Mike McMillan

Jon Marshall, a smokejumper at Missoula, has written an article about the current state of the smokejumper program. He looks at career development in the program, staffing levels, what it’s like to be a jumper, and the square vs. round canopy issue. You can red the entire article at his blog, but below is an excerpt:


I’ve loved living the life of a smokejumper. The people, the places, the experiences, the opportunities, the adventure; the skills, the training, the challenges, the obstacles, the fears and the insight that I’ve gained while employed as a smokejumper have given me an acute appreciation of what one is truly capable of if one puts their mind to it. I typically spend less than 20 minutes a year under canopy, but spend close to 6 months of my life away from home, dedicated to fire and the travel and the lifestyle associated with it. During that 6-month period I spend close to 100 days on active fire assignments and work nearly 800 hours of overtime, filling a variety of roles while making significant sacrifices to other aspects of my personal and professional life.

I enjoy the small initial attack fires with close friends, but I also grow from the challenges, personal tests and complexities found in incident command and on large project fires. I want to see this program move healthily forward into the future while providing it’s employees with the career opportunities and support that they deserve. The Smokejumper program is, at its core, the strongest Professional Development Program in the Forest Service, and in my opinion, one of the strongest in the country outside of the military. Individuals that leave the Smokejumper program go on to become extremely strong leaders, mentors and role models throughout this country. They pursue a wide range of careers from national incident managers and fire leaders to politicians to scientists to private business owners and entrepreneurs. I think it’s critical that we don’t lose sight of what this program really means to most of us; while truly recognizing how fragile it may really be.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.