Smokejumper requests are signaled by two loud blasts of an air horn, heard throughout the smokejumper base. After the horn sounds a jumper has two minutes to suit up in their protective jump gear equipment (pants, jacket, harness, reserve parachute, main parachute, helmet, gloves, and personal fire pack.)
Following every suit up each jumper undergoes a safety check performed by another qualified jumper or spotter to ensure gear is worn safely and correctly prior to boarding the aircraft. Our goal is to be flying en route to the fire within fifteen minutes of being dispatched.
Once the “Jump ship” has arrived to the incident the aircraft will circle the fire while the spotter and jumper in charge determine how many jumpers are needed.The spotter then selects a jump spot for the jumpers to safely land as close to the fire as possible. “Jump spot” selection is based on fire behavior, terrain features, ground hazards, and the best access to the fire in a timely manner.
When the first jumper is on the ground he or she will then contact the aircraft to inform the other jumpers of additional hazards and any other wind factors. After all firefighters have reached the ground safely, communication is established with the ordering unit or local dispatch. Cargo with tools and provisions for three days are dropped from the jump ship.
When the jumper in charge reaches the fire the ordering unit or dispatch will be contacted and given a fire size up report. Lookouts, communications, escape routes, and safety zones are established and identified prior to engaging in fire suppression. Our most common tactic is direct fire line construction using chainsaws or crosscut saws, and hand tools to create a fuel break to stop the spread of fire. After the fire has been contained “mop-up” procedures are used to cool the remaining heat by stirring hot ash with mineral soil. Once there are no more visible smokes, the burned area is then hand felt to ensure that no heat remains and that there is no possibility of a rekindle.
Finally the smokejumpers are ready to demobilize from the fire and return to the base. Transportation arrangements are made by the ordering unit which may include being picked up by helicopter, pack mules, or hiking their gear to the nearest road for a vehicle shuttle.