Redmond smokejumpers prep for wildfire season

Training a 'reunion' of sorts at Redmond Air Cneter

Local smokejumpers ready for season

REDMOND, Ore. - Flying at 1,500 feet, the door opens of the Forest Service Sherpa plane.

"I love it," smokejumper Ralph Sweeney said Monday. "That time in the door is definitely my time."

Within minutes, 10 Redmond smokejumpers leaped from the back of the plane, floating down to stop a wildfire burning in a remote spot of the U.S.

Day in and day out, the men and women wait for the call to head anywhere in the country. But before they can leave, they have to complete extensive training and refresher courses.

On Monday, the final group of smokejumpers began their refresher course at the Redmond Air Center.

"We come back this time of year and reunite and get ready to go fight fire again together," Sweeney said. "It's really fun -- it's a reuniting of old friends."

The group trains for everything from primary parachute failure to becoming stuck in a tree.

"When your adrenaline is through the roof, you've just jumped out of an airplane and now you are hanging in a tree, it's no real time to figure out what you're doing," Sweeney said. "We practice this over and over again, so when it happens it's second-nature."

Once on the ground, the firefighters will pack close to 100 pounds of gear.

"It takes a person that can endure a lot," said Sweeney. "Someone who can carry heavy weight and go forever with little sleep."

The Redmond smokejumpers received their first call at the beginning of May. They say it's one of the earliest starts to their season.

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