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Steve Nix

Women Smokejumpers

By August 11, 2003

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National Geographic recently featured an article and an MSNBC documentary on women that jump from planes into forest fires for a living. A formal Equal Employment Opportunity complaint allowed women to become smokejumpers in the early 1980s.
There are over 400 smokejumpers in the United States. Of that number, twenty-seven are women who attend the same "boot camp" and pass the same tests as their male counterparts. The first female firefighter to make this elite group was Deanne Shulman in 1981.
Smokejumpers were first used in northern Idaho in 1940. They are trained to fight fires that are too remote, terrain too rugged, or where heat and flames are too intense to control by any other means. Smokejumping is an extremely dangerous occupation as is dramatically documented in Norman MacLean's Young Men and Fire. This excellent book is a story of 15 smokejumpers deployed on Idaho's Mann Gulch Fire in 1949. Only three made it out alive.


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