The Smokey Generation’s road trip

What is The Smokey Generation? (They offer a description:)

The Smokey Generation is an oral history and digital storytelling project dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing the stories and history of wildland fire.  We are passionate about the wildland fire community and culture, celebrating it everyday. We are excited about communicating the beneficial role of fire in the environment and encouraging conversations about how to better use fire as a land management tool. We are committed to giving a voice to wildland fire and fire practitioners in a way that honors our history and proudly demonstrates our relationship to fire and the natural world.  Check us out at:


We first wrote about the Smokey Generation in 2015.

The Smokey Generation: Wildland Fire Oral History Project

Bethany Hannah
Bethany Hannah

Wildland firefighting is a unique occupation, very different from structural firefighting and any other job, actually. It is a niche line of work, an amalgam of professional athlete and warfighter. Few people outside of the relatively small pool of those who have experienced it have a good understanding of how wildland firefighters live and work — the frequent or constant travel, the extreme physical demands over an extended time, the camaraderie of the crews, the feeling of accomplishment, and the occasional adrenaline rush.

These folks have stories to tell. Some of them are fun and entertaining, and many are embedded with lessons that can help educate those just beginning their careers. It would be a shame to allow their hard earned knowledge to fade away.

Betheny Hannah has embarked on a project to preserve some of those memories and lessons, creating The Smokey Generation, a collection of video interviews with firefighters. Having worked as a hotshot firefighter for six years and a chain saw instructor, she knows the jargon and what questions to ask. On her website, which was designed as part of her Master’s thesis project, and on Vimeo, she has posted interviews with dozens of firefighters. Most of the individual interviews have been broken down into several short recordings, each on a singular topic, lasting just a few minutes so it can be a little overwhelming when browsing through over 250 of them on Vimeo. On her website they can be sorted by person and topic.

This summer Ms. Hannah initiated a Kickstarter project to raise funds to attend and interview some of the 900 attendees at the smokejumper reunion in Missoula.

Several videos are posted below. The first was produced by STIHL, the chain saw folks, in which she is featured as part of the company’s Real People campaign. The rest are from The Smokey Generation. Beginning with the second, the descriptions are below the video.

(Vimeo, which is an excellent service, usually, seems to be having problems the day we posted this article, and you may have trouble starting some of the videos.)

Ariel Starr, Redding Smokejumper in 2012 and Missoula Smokejumper from 2013-Present (2015), tells an amusing story about her first jump in her home state of Alaska.

Charlie Caldwell, retired Hotshot Superintendent and Smokejumper, talks about how he got his start in his career, along with some information about the beginnings of the Redding Interagency Hotshot Crew program.

Ronald Stephens, Missoula Smokejumper from 1946-1947, describes his involvement with the 1947 water bomb project, a semi-secret USFS experiment in partnership with the Army Air Corps.

Ken Jordan, retired Hotshot Superintendent, describes his perception of the characteristics that make an ideal Hotshot and talks about the draw of working with good people early on in his career. Interviewed: 4/2014

(Each thumbnail at the bottom tells a new story)

Gina Papke, current Program Specialist and former Hotshot Superintendent, shares some of her memories and thoughts on her experience leading up to and after the South Canyon Incident.

Davidson River crew — 1923 and 2015

Davidson River Fire Crew 2015
Davidson River Fire Crew 2015.

We received the following message from Bill Coates, Acting Superintendent of the Davidson River Initial Attack Crew (above), who referred to a photo that we posted on November 18 taken in 1923. We reposted that photo down below. Click on it to see a larger version.


“The first photo featured on your post of old firefighting photos is one that we also encountered in some archives a while ago, identified as the Davidson River Fire Crew. In 2008 the US Forest Service and Schenck Job Corps in Pisgah Forest, North Carolina teamed up to create the Davidson River Initial Attack Crew, an advanced fire management training program for Job Corps graduates. Today that crew trains and places approximately 15 students per year, and provides training opportunities to 8-12 agency overhead detailers. We help Region 8 forests accomplish their prescribed fire targets and typically burn between 30,000 and 60,000 acres annually, in addition to wildfire response. I’ve attached a photo [above] of today’s crew from a day we recently spent volunteering at Veteran’s Healing Farm ( John Mahshie, who runs the farm, is on the far right.

Bill Coates, Acting Superintendent, Davidson River IA*


firefighters rail car

Firefighting over the last 100 years has changed — some

firefighters rail carFighting wildfires has changed in some ways over the last 100 years. We have firefighting aircraft, chain saws, better modes of transportation, and better pumps, but we’re still fighting fire with sharpened pieces of metal attached to the ends of sticks. assembled a collection of 82 photos that gives us an idea what it must have been like fighting wildfires and structure fires a hundred years ago. Here are a couple of examples — you can see the rest HERE.

Female firefighters 1922

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Joe.

“Man Against Fire”

The 1960s film Man Against Fire is one of the classics.

The objective of the USFS film must have been to educate the general public about what is involved in suppressing a large wildland fire.

I love the voice of the narrator, Fire Boss “Doug Maxwell”. Unfortunately he was not given a credit in the film. Anyone know who it was?

Kudos to the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center for putting these on video and uploading them to YouTube. I only wish they had converted them in a resolution better than 240p.

Crew Boss training in the 1940s

These two videos, part 1 and part 2, were salvaged from the Crew Boss training film made in the 1940s, long before most current firefighters were born.

What were your favorite parts of the film? Here’s one. Someone asks the Crew Boss who just arrived at the fire camp with his crew, “Any experience with large fires?”