Grand Junction, CO - A day in the life of a smokejumper can go from zero to one-hundred in a moments notice.
"We'll pretty much jump anywhere from down here in the Valley bottom all the way up to the wilderness. You can have jumps up to 11,000 feet", says Ben Oakleaf, a smokejumper deployed to the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire & Aviation Unit.
Oakleaf was deployed from Boise Idaho's Bureau of Land Management Fire Aviation Unit to assist with fires in Colorado and Utah.
"Primarily, we're an Initial [Tactical] Resource, so we're called for new starts and have a quick getaway", says Oakleaf.
Once the call comes in, they quickly suit up, gather equipment, and are out on the tarmac ready to take off without a moment to spare.
"We're suited up in two minutes and we want to be 'wheels turning' on the airplane in six minutes. We specialize in remote areas where you don't have a lot of access to jet engines and other crews that are going to take a little longer, but you can 8 bodies on the ground using smokejumpers", says Oakleaf.
Not only do they occasionally leap from thousands of feet off the ground, in extreme cases they can be deployed for more than 48 hours on the job.
"We exit the plane 3,000 feet above ground level. So, once we get over we find the fire, look for a suitable jump spot. We throw what's called 'streamers' out, that gives us an idea about the air conditions and the wind. Then, we know where we want to let out, so we'll climb up to 3,000 feet and put the guys out the door, then the cargo comes after that", says Oakleaf.
It's a demanding job, but Oakleaf wouldn't have it any other way.
"You have to be on your 'A' game, but it's hard work; it's glorified ditch digging. You've got to like the hard work. There's not much that's special when I get to the ground, I'm no different than anyone else. It's hard work and just enjoying the people you work with. We work with a lot of great people, those are the two reasons that keep me coming back", says Oakleaf.