3.5 stars. Parachuting into a forest fire, controlling its furious and unpredictable flames, and packing out of rugged terrain carrying well in excess of 100 pounds pretty much fulfills the definition of “badass” in anyone’s book. Jason Ramos recounts his 20+ year career as a smokejumper, combining his memoirs with a concise history of firefighting and lucid discussions of the problems facing wilderness firefighters today.
As with many memoirs by the elites of dangerous professions, there’s a humility and “all in a day’s work” understatement of risk to Smokejumper: A Memoir by One of America’s Most Select Airborne Firefighters. The smokejumpers are men who have no need to brag; their accomplishments stand on their own merits with no embellishment necessary. I can’t imagine anyone who would read this book and not feel a sense of awe at these brave firefighters.
Smokejumper is easily readable, with direct prose. While the narrative tends to be pretty jumpy–moving from Ramos’ part in a fire to discussions of firefighting equipment to the history of the deadliest fires–it maintains a natural feel, like a long chat over some beers (and don’t even think of not picking up the tab, he deserves a beer and then some!). I would have liked a little more personal stories of Mr. Ramos; he almost casually mentions his role in fighting fires as an afterthought when I get the feeling he could have written much more about his role, and I did not feel as emotionally bound to the story as its contents would have allowed.
I also appreciated his reflection on the firefighting profession and man’s role with nature. Esoteric details of forest management, firefighting tactics, and the behavior of fires are presented very clearly; Ramos is a natural explainer.
As man encroaches more upon wilderness, the topic of forest fires becomes more and more relevant. Smokejumper is a readable, enjoyable look at the problems posed by wildfires, and the brave men and women who risk their lives to control them.