Smoke jumpers form an elite group of firefighters who parachute out of aircraft in order to reach wildfires in inaccessible areas. These professionals often have advanced degrees in forestry, engineering, fire management and biology. Despite the dangers smoke jumpers face, their salaries are not much higher than those of an average firefighter, which was $22.95 per hour or $47,730 annually in 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Smoke Jumper Salary
Smoke jumpers in the U.S. Forest Service's fire and aviation management division are federal employees who start their careers at the GS-5 grade level, earning $15.00 per hour. Pay increases with experience and for supervisors. While many wildfire fighters seek work as smoke jumpers, the Forest Service states that career opportunities are not widely available. Moreover, smoke jumping is generally a temporary or seasonal position that firefighters work during the summer months. Generally, only supervisors work as full-time smoke jumpers throughout the year, providing administrative and training services.
According to the Forest Service, smoke jumpers do not earn extra wages for making parachute jumps. Instead, because of the dangerous nature of smoke jumping, they earn hazard-duty pay per the Forest Service’s pay guidelines. Hazard pay equals 25 percent of a smoke jumper’s base salary, but they only receive this while working on taming a wildfire.
While working as a smoke jumper, a fire fighter retains the benefits provided to him by his home station. These benefits vary by city and a fire fighter’s status as a full-time employee. Full-time firefighters generally have the same comprehensive benefits packages as city employees. The Forest Service states that some volunteer firefighters may also serve as smoke jumpers. In this case, the Forest Service would pay for the medical attention needed for firefighting-related injuries and provide life insurance in the event of a fatality while working as a smoke jumper
The Forest Service states that they do not provide smoke jumpers with meals, so individuals must bring their own food. However, if a smoke jumper serves on a project or wildfire that is away from her home base, the Forest Service provides her with a subsistence allowance. Some bases provide smoke jumpers with dormitories, or a firefighter can choose to have the cost of rent deducted from her paycheck. While the Forest Service provides most of the protective gear a smoke jumper needs, she must provide her own work boots, knife and watch.
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