This weekend my dad shared a book written by one of his Smokejumper buddies. He was very pleased to be featured in one of stories in the collection, and even more pleased that it was not an embarrassing story.
If you aren’t from the Pacific Northwest, you might be unfamiliar with the term Smokejumper. Basically, they jump out of airplanes into blazing forest fires and beat out the flames with a shovel. Okay, they have a few more tricks in their bag, especially now that they can deploy planes with fire suppressant foam. Despite advances in firefighting, most forest fires are still fought on the ground. Once the fire is controlled or extinguished, the jumpers have to pack up their gear (chutes, shovels, axes, etc…) and “pack out” to the nearest road to wait for a truck to pick them up. If they are lucky, they are within a mile or so of the road and they don’t have to wait more than a day to be picked up. If they are not lucky, they may pack out several miles and have to wait a week for a truck to pick them up.
My dad has a great story about one fire that they fought across the border into Canada. When they finally packed out and tried to leave the country they had been on the fire for over a month and their clothes were literally disintegrating. Can you guess what happened? Well, they had entered the country illegally, so….well, I won’t tell you anymore. It might be in this book.
Oh, I almost forgot the point of this post – the book! This book is a simple compilation of stories collected over years of Smokejumping. Reading it is a bit like sitting around and listening to your favorite uncle tell you a story. Smokejumpers are underrepresented in media, so you are bound to learn something unless you happen to have a jumper in your family.
Personal stories are important. Make a point to tell yours – and, preferably, write it down! The world is changing so quickly, it is easier than ever for the everyday stories to get lost. Maybe you don’t think it is important that your mom made you keep a dime in your shoe so that you could always call her in an emergency — it is! A kid today doesn’t understand what it is like to live without a phone (and computer) in their pocket. A payphone is just something from a Maroon 5 song. And who the heck carries cash – especially coins? Those little things are what make you, you. So, tell your story today. It is more interesting than you think.
NB: As with all first responders, Smokejumpers charge into danger when others run away. Even as a very young child, I was keenly aware that sometimes when they were called out, not everyone came back. If you would like to express your thanks to those who protect our forests, please consider the Good Samaritan and scholarship programs set up by the National Smokejumper Association.