Smokejumper retires after a record-setting 896 jumps

Dale Longanecker retired last week after making 896 jumps out of perfectly good airplanes. Longanecker made his last jump out of the North Cascades Smokejumper Base when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 57. Here is an excerpt from an article in the New York Times:

WINTHROP, Wash. — Kristy Longanecker smiled while her husband fell from the clear blue sky.

Dale Longanecker, 57, is retiring after 38 years as a smoke jumper with the United States Forest Service.

“He got to live his dream,” said Ms. Longanecker, barely bothering to watch. “I’m envious of that sometimes. How many people get to live their dream?”


So ended jump No. 896 — one final shock to the skeleton, one final perfect parachute roll, a practice run with no more reason to practice. Last month, Dale Longanecker turned 57, the mandatory retirement age for firefighters employed by the United States Forest Service. Friday was his last day on the job, and his was not just another retirement.

Mr. Longanecker has spent 38 years as one of the most elite of his kind, a smoke jumper. He has parachuted out of airplanes into some of the most remote wildfires in the West carrying little more than a shovel, a gallon of water and a bottle of ibuprofen. He was 19 when he made his first jump, and the Forest Service says his 896 jumps — 362 of which were into fires — are a record that may never be broken.

Smokejumping photo

parachutes over a fireThis photo on the GreatFallsTribune web site got my attention. The caption reads as follows:

Smokejumpers head for an open landing area during the early stages of last season’s Rat Patch Fire deep in the Missouri River Breaks. BLM PHOTO

I am not certain there are any smokejumpers in the photo — it may be para-cargo. Regardless, unless there is a green meadow or no vegetation in that drop zone, it seems like an odd choice for a place to insert people OR cargo — between two fingers of fire. But, it’s difficult to tell much from the photo.

The picture was attached to an article about the outlook for the wildfire season in Montana. Here is an excerpt:

Above-average precipitation and snowpack that contributed to severe flooding this spring in Montana likely will ease the severity of the wildfire season.

However, the season is beginning to heat up after getting a late start because of wet conditions, according to the Northern Rockies Coordination Center in Missoula.

The center, which coordinates fire resources and predicts severity of the fire season for the region, is forecasting a below-average to average fire season in the Northern Rockies because of the cool, wet spring, coupled with the heavy snowpack.

Moist conditions slowed the usual July 4 beginning of the fire season by two weeks, said Bryan Henry, a predictive service meteorologist for the Northern Rockies Coordination Center.

Wildfires burn about 160,000 acres in a normal year in the Northern Rockies.

“We’re probably looking at that or maybe less,” Henry said.

Hastings fire moves within 3 miles of Fairbanks subdivision

Hastings fire. Two smokejumpers approaching landing zone in clearing with smoke column in background. 5-31-2011. Photo: Mike McMillan-Alaska Fire Service

The Hastings fire has burned to within three miles of a subdivision and five miles from the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline northwest of Fairbanks, Alaska. Residents of the subdivision of about a dozen homes were asked to evacuate on Monday.

Hastings fire, 6-7-2011
(Click to enlarge) Hastings fire. View from Spinach Creek & Murphy Dome; 6-7-2011. Photo: Mike McMillan-Alaska Fire Service

Here is a report from InciWeb at 10 a.m. on June 7:

Fire managers made heavy use of firefighting aircraft on Monday. Air tankers dropped 65,000 gallons of water and retardant on the fire’s flanks to slow its progress. Helicopters provided additional air support, moving crews and supplies to the fire. As there is no road access to this fire, aircraft are critical to the firefighting effort. Seven additional firefighting crews arrived to reinforce the crews already on the line.

The Hastings Fire is now 12,770 17,624 acres and eight per cent contained. The fire is most active on the north and northeast flanks, and is about three miles from the Hayes Creek Subdivision and five miles from the Alaska Pipeline. The fire is burning between the Chatanika River and Washington Creek.

Continue reading “Hastings fire moves within 3 miles of Fairbanks subdivision”

New Zealand site writes about smokejumpers

The New Zealand Herald has an article about the North Cascades Smokejumpers in Washington state, in which she compares smokejumpers to firefighters who “slide down a pole at the station” and ride in a truck to the fire. She wonders if the latter is “firefighting for wimps”.

Here is how the article begins.

Pamela Wade discovers modest fire-fighting heroes in a Wild West town.

A Western figure in Winthrop, Washington State. Photo / Pamela Wade

If it weren’t so obvious that there’s not an ounce of fat on them, it would be tempting to call Washington state’s North Cascades Smokejumpers well-rounded: how else to describe men who not only leap from a small plane to parachute into dense forest wreathed in the smoke from a wildfire, but can also execute a nifty bit of top-stitching on the sewing machines back at base?

They have to make their own jumpsuits in this service because there are only 400 smokejumpers in the whole of the US and there’s not much call, commercially, for yellow Kevlar boiler suits with capacious pockets, weighing more than 80kg fully packed.

Standard equipment includes a rope for rappelling down out of trees and a knife to slice through tangles, making sliding down a pole at the station and getting into a truck look like fire-fighting for wimps…

Last night’s premier of “Smokejumpers”

All images are screen grabs from "Smokejumpers", courtesy of CMT

Did anyone see the premier of the “Smokejumpers” special on Country Music Television (CMT) last night? As we told you on April 20, CMT spent a lot of time with the Missoula, Montana smokejumpers in 2008 and collected a great deal of video footage. The one-hour program last night may have been the beginning and end of “Smokejumpers”, but there is a chance that it could turn into a full-year of episodes.

All-night line construction training. The caption on the screen is a trainer providing commentary on the quality of the line that is being dug.

I thoroughly enjoyed the program. It had some great video of smokejumpers training, jumping, and being interviewed about their work. The quality and the production values were excellent; very professional, as you would expect from a television network, even without taking into account that it was on a network with “music” in the title.

Often, cameras were attached to the jumpers as they parachuted. We got to see up close and personal views as they glided to the ground, and occasionally crashed through tree branches.

The program was primarily about early fire season training for rookies, with a few interviews of veterans thrown in. The second half focused on a rookie that was doing fine except for the landings, or the “parachute landing fall”, called “PLF” on the show. The editing of the show was leading us to believe that she was going to flunk out, since mostly what was being shown was unsatisfactory PLF’s. But then at the end, there she was in the graduation ceremony, wearing a fire shirt with a tie like the other rookies that passed. I guess they needed to manufacture some drama to make the program as interesting as possible.

Missoula smokejumper rookie training graduation, 2008

Here are some quotes from the show:

I. Love. This. Job. It’s not a job really. It’s a damn good time, to get a paycheck on top of it.

There’s no crying in firefighting.

The program will be a great recruiting tool for smokejumpers. The jumpers they interviewed were constantly saying how much they loved their work. The agencies are going to be inundated with inquiries about how to become a smokejumper.

If you missed the program last night, the full episode is available for viewing on the CMT website. It is about 42 minutes long, with a few short commercials.

Below are more images from the program.
Continue reading “Last night’s premier of “Smokejumpers””

Missoula smokejumpers on TV Friday night

Smokejumpers specialSmokejumpers from the Missoula, Montana base are going to star in a new one-hour special on CMT, appropriately named SMOKEJUMPERS, on Friday night, April 23 at 10 p.m., ET/PT. Currently planned to be just a one-time special, the senior vice president of programming for CMT, Mary Beth Cunin, was quoted as saying that if the special is successful, they could green-light the show for a full year of episodes.

In 2008, a film crew from Megalomedia followed the Missoula jumpers as they trained and fought fires. They did not parachute from a DC-3, Shorts Sherpa C-23, or Twin Otter aircraft with the jumpers, but met them on the ground at fires. (Two smokejumper bases have USFS-owned DC-3 aircraft that have been converted to turbo prop machines–Missoula and McCall, Idaho.)

I talked with Missoula smokejumper Rogers Warren who explained that in 2008 the film crew had a special use permit from the US Forest Service which made it possible for them to film the jumpers and later use the footage for commercial purposes. A public affairs officer from the USFS accompanied the film crew most of the time.

Here is an excerpt from a press release from CMT about the program:

NASHVILLE – April 7, 2010 – CMT’s Friday night is getting hotter with the premiere of a new one-hour special, SMOKEJUMPERS, premiering on Friday, April 23 at 10:00 p.m., ET/PT. The special is the third piece of programming in CMT’s newly branded Friday night of adventure programming, CMT ADVENTURE COUNTRY, and immediately follows new episodes of GATOR 911 and DANGER COAST.

With hand tools, explosives, and the ability to think fast on their feet, SMOKEJUMPERS have one job – to contain the fire they are set to extinguish. But first, they must get there by parachuting into often unchartered territory and treacherous forests and mountains. The men and women of SMOKEJUMPERS show how they can often be the only hope to stop a fire burning out of control, and why they are the most important lines of defense against one of the deadliest natural disasters. Success means saving land, but failure could mean losing lives, property and costing millions of dollars in damage. The one-hour special, offers an inside look at this dangerous profession – from the nervous rookie jumper, to the twenty-year veteran, the thrill-seeking big-wave surfer, and the family man with a master’s degree. These SMOKEJUMPERS share one goal – to stop a potentially devastating and dangerous force of nature.

SMOKEJUMPERS is produced by Megalomedia, with Jonathan Nowzaradan as Executive Producer. Melanie Moreau and Bob Kusbit serve as Executive Producers for CMT.

The Danger Coast series, which follows waterborne firefighters with the Miami-Dade Fire Department, also looks interesting. Episode #102 will air Friday, April 23, at 9:30 ET, just before Smokejumpers.

Here are some photos from the CMT Smokejumper site:
Missoula smokejumpers

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