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A little help from above
Brett Newell strapped on his black ankle braces, a regulation shirt, a brown jumpsuit made out of Nomex and Kevlar, and then added on the rest of his protective gear including a parachute, reserve parachute and line gear. All told he carries around an extra 80-90 pounds as he flies through the air and lands near a fire.
He is a smokejumper who is on call nationally to help fight fires and currently is stationed at the Porterville Air Attack Base.
“It’s a dream job. There aren’t many jobs where you get this much fun and excitement,” said Newell, who is on his first season of smokejumping. So far he has had two fire jumps and 21 practice/ training jumps.
He has seven seasons of firefighting experience under his belt.
His teammate, Brian Kvisler, agrees.
“We get to do a lot of different things, and work with different people. You never know where you’re going to end up,” said Kvisler, a veteran smokejumper who is in his tenth season.
Both men are home based out of Redding and are part of the eight-man team that is here because of an increased threat of fires locally because of the heat and the threat of lightning on the Sequoia National Forest.
The men will board and then jump out of a Dornier 228 aircraft at a moments notice of a fire breaking out in the million acre forest or anywhere else.
According to Kvisler, they make all of their own materials, including their suits, bags, etc.
Their team consists of the smokejumpers, two spotters, and one pilot and according to Kvisler, they can put smokejumpers on the ground anywhere in California within two to three hours.
According to Newell, they are dropped off at 1,500 feet above ground.
They fight mostly small remote fires, including light fires in the wilderness.
“Our job is to try to catch fires small,” said Kvisler. They only have chain saws, folding hand saws, a Pulaski hand tool and the sweat on their backs to fight the fires.
According to Kvisler, after a horn goes off they suit up, load up, and fly to the fire. However, they do not jump into a fire.
“When we get to the fire, we circle around it and check things out like the kind of fire it is, the fuel, the wind, and a safe place to land,” said Kvisler. According to Kvisler, the ideal place to land is in a big green meadow.
Once a spot is located, the team exits the plane in twos, called “sticks.”
“The first jumper goes and then immediately the second goes. We then circle around, and go back to the release point,” said Kvisler who estimates that the circle takes between one and a half minutes to two minutes.
According to Kvisler, they do not use a stand up landing, but rather a Parachute Landing Fall.
“We hit the ground in kind of a roll,” said Kvisler.
Once all members have landed, then the cargo, which contains food, enough for about 36 hours ,water, and tools, is dropped.
“We gather up the boxes, get what we need, and immediately start hiking to the fire,” said Kvisler.
Depending on the nature of the fire, the team could be there overnight or for an extended amount of time.
At their last fire, the Mill Fire on the Mendocino Forest near Stoney Ford, according to Kvisler, they were only there overnight as they worked an all night shift.
According to Newell, they train and train.
“We do a lot of training before the first jump. We have simulators of jumping and landing for one week,” said Newell.
“We train until it becomes second nature,” said Kvisler who offered this advice. He believes that staying in shape, eating right and getting a job on a hotshot crew is the best way to become a smokejumper.
For more information visit http://www.fs.fed.us.