Can you think of a reason why anybody would want to parachute right into the middle of a raging forest fire? Most of us couldn’t.
But for the brave men and women, who work as smokejumpers, skydiving into forest fires is their job-and what’s more, they can’t wait for their next call!
It’s true. Highly trained and experienced, smokejumpers parachute into forest fires as self-sufficient firefighters who can arrive on the scene to provide a quick initial attack on the fire in rugged terrain. Fire-fighting tools, food and water are also dropped by parachute, allowing the smokejumpers to fight fires on their own for up to 48 hours at a stretch.
The smokejumper program began in 1939 as an experiment in the Pacific Northwest and the first fire jump took place in Idaho’s Nez Perce National Forest in 1940. The first woman in the program completed her training in 1981.
Smokejumpers travel all over the country to fight fires and more than 270 smokejumpers work from Forest Service bases located in Idaho, California, Montana, Washington and Oregon.
As you can imagine, smokejumping is extremely hazardous. These highly trained professional must be in tip-top physical condition and must be experts in the specialized field of woodland firefighting.
While the demands on us aren’t as great as those for a smokejumper, we need to take fire every bit as seriously as they do. It’s vital that we always stay alert to possible fire-starters, such as solvents, electricity, mechanical equipment and even clutter in our work areas. And if a fire should occur, make sure you know the right action to take, including the location and proper use of fire extinguishers.
Despite their experience, smokejumpers never let up on their training. They constantly practice the basics, such as aircraft exiting procedures, parachute maneuvering, parachute- landing rolls, cargo retrieval and tree climbing. Some training sites even have virtual training simulators for real-life on the ground practice.
We shouldn’t let up on our training either. A hazard that’s overlooked due to inattention or a fire that rages out of control because someone didn’t take the time to learn the proper procedure can have devastating consequences-including the worst consequences of all, loss of life. Instead, when it comes to fire, we must always stay alert and stay informed to stay safe.
STOP FIRE BEFORE IT STARTS…PREVENTION IS THE KEY
*Copyright 2008 Harkins Safety B234