For most of us, a quick glimpse of a plane as it drones overhead on its way to a wildfire is all we'll ever see of smokejumpers or the work they do, but Murry A. Taylor's Jumping Fire: A Smokejumper's Memoir of Fighting Wildfire in the West, offers insight into their hectic lives. Taylor, who has been in the smokejumping business for 27 years, tells us that for smokejumpers, fire is usually the least of all hazards. They face bear attacks, 1,500-foot plunges to the ground, broken arms, legs, wrists, jaws, ankles and backs, and exhaustion that is kept at bay by instant coffee and Ibuprofen. Taylor shows how this high-adrenaline job takes over jumpers' lives, edging out a normal life or stable relationship.
Stressing the macho and gonzo,
Jumping Fire also does nothing to alter any perception that these
firefighters are irreverent, vulgar, uncouth and crass. They get
airsick and toss their barf bags out the door in mid-flight. They
are the men who show up to save your cabin in the forest and just
might run off with your daughter before it's
If you know nothing about smokejumping - or
if you think it's done by wholesome, Smokey Bear types who live to
teach kids about fire safety - Jumping Fire, full of technical
details that don't leave the reader in the dust, will be an
eye-opening introduction. If you do know something about
smokejumping, you'll be reminded how fortunate society is that
those who smokejump are employed by the U.S. government and not up
to worse mischief.
Jumping Fire: A
Smokejumper's Memoir of Fighting Wildfire in the West, by
Murry A. Taylor, harcourt, Brace & Co., 2000. Hardcover: $26.