More from Smokejumpers Base

When I left Kalispell this morning I headed south on a scenic road which took me back to Missoula MT.  When I was there last weekend I didn’t have time to do the hour-long tour of the Smokejumpers Base so I thought I’d go back, and boy am I glad I did!  Fascinating is not a strong enough word to describe it.

Our guide was Paul, who was a jumper for 30 years during which he went on 450 missions.  He said there are 80 jumpers based in Missoula.  Jumpers are comprised of both men and women.  Both must pass the exact same standards of skill and endurance.  An hour or more of daily physical exercise is a requirement, and the jumpers and support staff are constantly preparing themselves and their equipment for deployment. The military also sends people here for specialized training.

The top picture was taken in the “gear room” where each jumper has two lockers to store their gear.  They also have a “go bag” which is pre-packed with essential items.  They also have a bag packed with personal items (street clothes, toiletries and personal effects) in the event they expect to be on a mission for an extended period.  They either take it when they leave initially or it can be sent to them once the event length is determined (or they may go directly to another event elsewhere).

When the base gets called out the jumpers are expected to be on the aircraft within 7 minutes.  Once dispatched they want to get on-site as quickly as possible to assess, contain and hopefully extinguish the fire so that additional manpower and resources do not need to be expended.

At the request of another worker at the complex Paul told us about how he once used a parachute which had been packed by a blind man.  I don’t think he would have told us this true story otherwise.  There was a young man who worked at the base doing other chores and asked Paul how a parachute is packed.  Paul said “let’s go do it” and spent the entire afternoon with the guy explaining each step of the process and letting him actually do it.  Parachutes are inspected and packed on very long tables.  Once the chute was packed, under Paul’s direct supervision, Paul used it on his next jump.  Paul has achieved the status of Master Rigger and I think it is very impressive that he took the time to let the man experience for himself what is involved in such an integral part of the bases function.

Just before our tour was over the plane took off with two jumpers who did a practice jump from about 1,500 feet (not far from where I was parked).  Going back to the base  was the best hour and a half I’ve spent in a long time.


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