How To Become a Smokejumper

How To Join the Elite Group Of Men and Women Known as Smokejumpers

Smoke jumper photo

Smokejumpers are a group of extreme firefighters who are often dropped by air and parachute into hotspots to prevent larger forest fires from spreading. It is a very dangerous and extreme job and it is not for everybody. There are very specific requirements for candidates for smokejumper school.

Do you have what it takes to become a smokejumper? If you are adventurous, fearless, in good physical shape and have firefighting experience, you might consider this extreme career. Here is how to get started.

Step 1

First determine if you are cut out to be a smokejumper. It is a dangerous job and one that may be difficult for married people, unless you are both joining. Forest fires don't happen on any set schedule and you may be called up and sent to anywhere in the United States on a moment's notice.

Most smokejumper jobs are temporary. They last through the fire season which is roughly from June to September and are then terminated. You must provide for yourself out of your wages once hired. It may take five weeks or more to get your first check so you will need to have enough money to survive.

First year smokejumpers are hired at a GS-5 level, with a temporary appointment lasting no more than 180 days. Assuming satisfactory performance, second year jumpers are hired at grade GS-6.

Candidates must have good vision. Corrected vision of 20/20 or better, with contact lenses or glasses is permissible. Smokejumper candidates must be able to pass the Eldridge-Green color blindness test. Candidates must be able to hear normal voice at 20 feet and a whisper at 15 feet.

In addition, applicants must be a minimum of 5 feet tall and a maximum of 6 feet, 5 inches tall and weigh at least 120 pounds, but no more than 200. Minimum age is 18. While no limit is set by most agencies on the upper end, one must be in excellent physical condition.

Step 2

Smokejumper academies require experience in forestry or agriculture. Applicants should have at least one semester year of forestry or a related field. Work experience can substitute for education. 

If you have farm experience, logging, etc, you can add this to your resume. In addition you should have basic firefighting experience. Volunteering with a local volunteer fire department is a good way to acquire experience needed to become a smokejumper.

Also, smokejumper academies want applicants with some experience fighting fires in mountainous areas. You may want to volunteer with a fire department in a mountainous state for a year or so before considering applying to the smokejumper academy.

Step 3

If you feel that you are qualified for temporary work as a smokejumper contact the Missoula Smokejumper Base and fill out an application. It is best to do this long before the spring and Summer fire season. See Missoula Smokejumpers for more information.

Obviously the job of smokejumper is not for everyone. If you want to help fight dangerous forest fires,  possibly save lives and valuable property, and test your inner limits, it might be the job for you.


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