Dec 1, 1999
Outside Magazine

The Work: A little known fact: Smokejumpers with the Bureau of Land Managementand the Forest Service don't just parachute into forests to fight fires, they parachute onto them—intentionally landing on lodgepole pines and lowering themselves down to battle raging blazes with only their Kevlar-reinforced jumpsuits for protection. In their downtime, they frequent the free-weight circuit and the sewing machine (tree branches wreak havoc on gauzy parachute canopies).

Time Outside: 40­-80 percent during the typical June­September fire season, depending on tinder conditions.

Payback: Rookies for the feds pocket a base pay of $10.50 an hour—twice that when actually fighting a fire. Base commanders with 20-plus years of experience earn $60,000 a year.

Prerequisites: The only way in is trial by fire—literally. Most rookies have six years of on-the-ground firefighting experience with hotshot crews. No jumping experience is needed, though; the BLM and Forest Service prefer to train from scratch.

Networking: Check in with the National Smokejumpers Association (406-549-9938;

Peon to Pro: Ten years to foreman and a spot on the year-round crew.

Drudge Factor: When it comes to risk, it's all or nothing: Land the wrong way and you could find yourself with a dead branch embedded in your butt—or worse, a broken back. During soggy summers, blaze-battlers build fences. Yawn.

Outlook: Look before you leap. Each year, roughly 800 hopefuls apply for 30 BLM and Forest Service openings.

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