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Missoula Smokejumpers Train 15 Rookies

by Montana MacLachlan |

Missoula Smokejumpers train 15 rookies with Mission Valley plane jump
By: Montana MacLachlan

Missoula Smokejumpers train 15...
RONAN, Mont. - For many people falling thousands of feet to the ground would be a thrill of a lifetime, but for the Missoula Smokejumpers it's just another day at work.

Blue skies created perfect conditions for the Missoula Smokejumpers to train their newest recruits in the Mission Valley just in time for fire season.

Wednesday was the first time most of the 15 rookies jumped out of a plane.

"There are definitely knots in their stomachs," said Smokejumpers public information officer Kurt Rohrbach.

Rookies jumped from 3,000 feet in the air, but their training began five to six weeks ago in the classroom.

"We teach them how to exit out of an airplane, proper body position, how to cross-cut a saw and how to land in a tree," said lead rookie trainer Travis Parker.

Parker's been a smokejumper for 10 years. He's worked 10,000-acre fires in Alaska and small lightning-started fires in New Mexico. Most recently Parker worked the Roaring Lion and Observation fires in the Bitterroot Valley.

"Basically, we're giving the (rookies) a tool box right now, but in that tool box are a hammer and a screwdriver, but towards the end of training they'll have an assortment of tools to be able to successfully navigate themselves to that jump spot," Parker said.

A Montana state flag posted on top of a hill outside Round Butte marked Wednesday's jump spot.

Rohrbach says the rookies have an extra parachute on their chest and a radio to communicate with ground control in case of an emergency.

"They have a full Kevlar jump suit on to protect from abrasions or landing on a tree. You have pads on your whole body inside the jump suit, so if you hit a hard surface it will protect you," he said.

Parker says smokejumper training is extensive, but it's nothing compared to what it takes to get into the Missoula Smokejumpers program.

"Each year we get roughly 400 applications, and this year we took 15 jumpers," said Rohrbach. "We just look for hardworking, humble individuals."

Rohrbach says the application process is competitive because the Missoula Smokejumpers program is one of just nine in the western United States -- and the largest in Montana.

He says all applicants have between four and five years of fire experience -- from engines, hot shot crews and chopper crews.

"We’re going out there jumping in remote fires in the middle of the wilderness, and if you don't take your job seriously there are consequences," he said.