Wildland firefighters put their lives on the line to protect towns and wildlife from the destructive power of wildfires, and smokejumpers are the crewmembers charged with parachuting down into remote areas to extinguish blazes. Their safety and success counts in part on the supplies they can take down to the ground with them.
Weighing in at over 100 pounds, these varied supplies ensure that smokejumpers are properly protected and equipped while they fight the flames. Read on to discover what makes up the smokejumper’s ultimate toolkit with our handy checklist.
Smokejumpers begin their journey by parachuting into the wildfires. Once they jump, there’s no turning back, so it’s essential they have all the protective clothing they need.
- Jump Suits: These special suits come with features to help smokejumpers during their initial jump and as they are working in burning areas. High collars protect the neck as the smokejumper falls through the trees, while multiple pockets are included to hold items like remote radios and hacking tools. Hook and loop closures around the wrists and ankles prevent injury and irritation from the brush.
- Helmets: Used to protect smokejumpers from fall impact, some helmets also have front cages, which keep tree branches and brush out of the smokejumper’s eyes, while still allowing them to see and plan their landing.
- Boots: Special boots are needed to handle the extreme wildfire conditions. All-leather counters for the insole and heels help support smokejumpers as they walk on uneven ground. Leather arches prevent bending, burning, and rusting.
- Firefighter Packs: These are used to carry the equipment and supplies needed on the ground.
- Other Protective Gear: Knee pads further protect smokejumpers as they land. Gloves keep the hands from blistering and prevent exposure when working in the brush.
Food, Water, and Shelter
Although airplanes may be able to drop more supplies later, smokejumpers need to have the bare essentials to keep them going as they work.
- Personal Fire Shelter: The fire shelter protects smokejumpers for a short period of time during a fast-moving blaze.
- Food: Smokejumpers carry two-days worth of food with them. Favorites include Gatorade, ramen, canned food, and spam.
- Sleeping Bag: Smokejumpers work days at a time and so it’s important that they rest when they can.
- Portable Water Pumps and Hauling Bags: Pumps and bags are not only used to transport water to areas without access to water systems, but they can also transport firefighting chemicals.
- Water Bottles: Staying hydrated is vital for smokejumpers, who work tirelessly in hot conditions from the moment they land.
Axes and Saws
Smokejumpers can only carry so much with them and therefore rely mostly on hand tools to control wildfires.
- McLeod: A two-sided blade with a rake-like handle, a McLeod has one blade to rake firebreaks and another to cut trees.
- Pulaski: This is a special axe that combines the traditional axe with the adze (an axe with an arched blade). The adze is used to break up topsoil, while the axe is used to chop roots and brush.
- Combi: This combination shovel and pickaxe is used to deepen trenches once the top roots and brush have been cleared.
- Crosscut Saws/Chainsaws: Used by two smokejumpers to fell timber, crosscut saws are less prone to damage from the initial jump, while chainsaws are typically the only motorized tool used by smokejumpers.
Smokejumpers need equipment that allows them to coordinate with their teammates and stay prepared for the unexpected.
- Essential Emergency/Disaster Kit: Kits should include emergency rations, drinking water pouches, a survival blanket, and hand warmers.
- Remote Radio/Walkie-Talkie: These devices ensure communication and an opportunity to reach out for assistance and more supplies.
- Additional Communication Tools: Glow sticks, flashlights, flares, “CALL 911” flags, and emergency whistles are all needed to locate fellow smokejumpers while on the job and during emergencies.
The Right Tools for the Job
Smokejumpers make up only 3% of our nation’s wildland firefighters, yet the role they play is invaluable. They work 24-hour shifts and won’t stop until their jobs are complete, which means they need to have the right tools with them as they jump out of the plane. Handling the physical demands of wildland fighting while holding onto their heavy toolkits requires extensive training – and now that you’ve seen our checklist, you know just how hard these brave firefighters work.
Visit our Wildland Store to find all the high-quality equipment and safety gear you need to protect your and your wildland firefighting team today.