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Deanne Shulman, McCall, First Woman Smokejumper

by Jack Demmons (MSO 1950) |

Deanne Shulrnanwas the first woman smokejumper in the history of the United States, to include the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Managemenu. She first began fighting fires on an engine crew on the Los Padres National Forest out of Santa Barbara, California. She worked J on a helitac crew during 1975 and '76. Deanne was part of a hot shot crew for the 1977 and '78 seasons and then applied to be a smokejumper in 1979, but was underweight. She then worked as a patrolman at Lake Tahoe in 1979 and on a helicopter rappel crew out of Oak Ridge, Oregon during 1980. Then in 1981 she earned a Bachelor of Science in forest management from Northern Arizona University. That same year she became the first woman smokejumper, and went on in that position for another 4 seasons.

She mentioned that the smokejumper training at McCall was very hard, which other women and men have said through the years about such training at all of the jumper bases. Her only problem at first was running, but she mastered that part of the program.

When Deanne applied to be a smokejumper in 1979, the requirements were that one be at least 5' 5" and weigh no less than 130 pounds. When she showed up at the jumper base she only weighed around 128 and was disqualified the 2d day even though she had passed the physical fitness test. In 1981 she weighed in at around 132 pounds and passed. (Later the government came to realize that only about 40% of the women in the general population met the height and weight requirements at that time. A big meeting was held and Deanne was invited to attend and express her views. Governmental officials from Washington were there and in the end the weight limit was reduced to 120 pounds.

During her first year of jumping she jumped on fires in 5 different states, and the following year was fighting fire in Alaska for three weeks. That first season everyone stared at her when she would get off the aircraft. She remembers a flight to Winthrop--NCSB base. Her legs were cramped on the ship and they had gone to sleep. After setting down at the base she was getting off the plane--no step on it--and fell flat on her face in front of the base manager, Bill Moody. Bill laughed and made her feel at ease. She said the McCall jumpers with her were rolling on the ground laughing.

Deanne mentioned one of the most exhilerating aspects of being a jumper. In 1983 she was sent to Alaska and made 6 jumps in 3 weeks. She met a lot of people and saw country she had never You might be in a motel one night or you might be out digging fire line all night."

There was a time when some Forest Service personnel voiced a concern about jumpers who were quite light. They thought they would float away with the wind Deanne mentioned, and have less control over where they landed. She has not had any such problem and has used "slipping" and "planinq" techniques, pulling on the front risers to mis-shape the canopy, which causes it to lose air, making it drop faster. (During the past several years Jack Demmons has watched the three Missoula base women jumpers make parachute drops, and they have not had any problems in getting down to the jump spot. The three, Marge Phillips, Andy McQuade and Sarah Doehring do an excellent job. He has watched them toss 85-90 pound packs on their backs and take off as if on a Sunday strole.

Deanne had mentioned that she was scared of heights--as are a number of jumpers. But as she stated, "There isn't any sensation of height when you jump and being in an aircraft makes a difference from being on top of a tall dam, or on top of a high building looking down."

Deanne has been asked if there is a psychological profile that fits jumpers. She said, "No, but there is that common experience that makes it easy to be around another jumper." She also said that one of the biggest thrills in jumping is during the first few seconds out of the door of an aircraft, a time of free fall, and a sort of out-of-control feeling, and then the opening of the chute, followed by the challenge of getting down to the jump spot.

She made another observation that is very true. She would be nervous prior to jumping, but came to terms with that feeling. It was not the kind of feeling where one wonders if he or she will survive or not, or break a leg. It is simply a different feeling. "It is simply not normal for a person to jump out of an aircraft," she said.

And so Deanne met many challenges in life from 1974 through her jumping days in 1985. She now has close to 20+ years fighting fires and working in other aspects of the Forest Service. She is Assistant District Fire Management Officer for the Greenhorn Ranger District of the Sequoia National Forest at Kernville, California. She was in Russia last year on a United States-Russia Fire Management Expert Exchange and she is mentioned in the article about Russian smokejumpers.