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Trade Stories: Jason Ramos, Smokejumper

March 14, 2013
Filed in: Trade Stories, Way of Life

Smokejumper-JasonRamosJason Ramos has devoted 25 years of his life to the fire service.  Now a full-fledged smokejumper working out of Winthrop, Washington, Jason has learned to expect the unexpected everyday.  On a clouded and cool afternoon, Filson caught up with Jason aboard his ‘home away from home,’ a custom camper Sportsmobile.

How did you become a smokejumper?
With any fire agency, when you come in, you’re going to hear about all the different job opportunities.  Smokejumping was always at the top.  If you go through all the years of training, and are lucky enough to try out, you can make it.  I learned about it at a very young age, and about 10 years later I applied for it.  Here we are today.

Where are you based?
Currently, I’m based out of Winthrop, WA.  It was actually the birth place of smokejumping — started here in 1939 with experimental jumps in the valley.

Why did you choose this particular occupation?
It’s a good question, but a hard answer.  Some people have multi-generational families of smokejumpers, but I heard about it while firefighting in a city with no smokejumpers at all.  It was something to try out for — you can go that path — and there are a lot of hurdles and obstacles to even get there.  So it’s one of those things you take day by day. Any firefighter in the world, they all know what smokejumpers do.  It’s very demanding, and it’s something that all of them think about.  I didn’t have any firefighters in the family, it was something I’d seen on documentaries, on TV, and in books; and I took that path.

North Cascades Smokejumpers

What 5 things do you always have with you in the field?
Every jumper is very different.  Some guys have trinkets from their kids or girlfriends, but I always have good sunglasses.  You’re wearing your boots, you’ve got your chapstick, your knife, some extra money because you never know where you’re going.  Having those things you’re very comfortable with can make missions go very differently.  If you forgot your knife, you know, you have to find a sharp rock.  It can change the mission, those little things are important.

Describe a normal day the life of a smokejumper:
There is no normal day.  First thing that happens is a morning roll call — just like everyone did in school — but a siren may go off before that, and you’re off to a mission.  No two days are the same.  It’s very dynamic.  You could be flying to another state, or half an hour later, be 100 feet up in a tree.  It’s hard to explain, but every day is simply unknown, and that keeps us coming back.

Your job involves a lot of time in forests and the wilderness, what’s the most beautiful place you’ve ever been?
Washington State.  The North Cascades.  They’ve got to be some of the most awe-inspiring places you could ever experience.  Some stretches are so virgin and desolate, there is nothing but lakes, and rock spires, and glaciers as far as you can see. A lot of locals call the area the American Swiss Alps.  And it is.  There are places in those mountains you can’t even explain.  Washington is the top — besides Hawaii and Mexico [laughs].

Jason Ramos Sportsmobile

What’s some of the best advice you’ve ever received?
To always be humble and listen.  And that’s a hard thing to do.  In my profession, we’re all “type-a alpha males,” but you have to just listen.  You have to pay attention to the “old salts” or the old veterans.  Listen and learn, because those guys have already been there.  They’re always willing to teach you.  “Listen and watch,” is great advice.

What is something you would love to learn how to do?
I’d love to learn to fly jets.  But I’ve been very lucky.  I’ve been able to do a lot of different sports — and I love to free dive and wind surf — but I’m pretty content.  As long as I’m eating good food, and not being cold or hungry, I’ve got a lot.

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16 Comments

  • My first fire jump was in the North Cascades out of Winthrop. It is God’s country!

    Posted by Mark Lewis | March 19, 2013 at 8:08 pm
  • Jason, thank you for your service. Made for a good read. Be safe.

    Posted by Rich Cutshall | April 4, 2013 at 9:10 am
  • Who was the photographer? Great images.

    Posted by matt | April 4, 2013 at 9:13 am
  • Very nice article on a profession that doesn’t (like most fireman) get enough reconiztion. Kudo’s to Jason, god bless and Filson for taking the time.

    Posted by todd mendenhall | April 4, 2013 at 10:03 am
  • My smokejumping days ended over 40 years ago but little has apparently changed with the people it attracts. We wanted to be the best, use the best stuff and do it all with a quiet self confidence. Well, one thing has changed. Today’s jumpers include “type A” women.

    Posted by Jim D | April 4, 2013 at 10:22 am
  • As with the above, not enough recognition AND not enough pay!

    Posted by steve | April 4, 2013 at 3:24 pm
  • Thanks for your kind words Matt, I shot these.

    Posted by travis.gillett@filson.com | April 4, 2013 at 4:29 pm
  • Airborne!39

    Posted by Jason A. Ramos | April 4, 2013 at 10:45 pm
  • Thank You Rich!

    Posted by Jason A. Ramos | April 4, 2013 at 10:46 pm
  • Thank you for the kind words Todd…

    Posted by Jason A. Ramos | April 4, 2013 at 10:49 pm
  • The North Cascades Base is open seven days a week for tours during the summer months. Come visit us and tell me your Filson story.

    S/f
    Airborne!39

    Posted by Jason A. Ramos | April 4, 2013 at 10:51 pm
  • Nice, Jim D. Thanks for mentioning it. As an electrician, it’s nice to have one of the guys speak up. Smokejumbers are an honorable lot if you and Jason are any indication.

    Posted by Annie | April 5, 2013 at 12:24 am
  • Great article! Wish you the Best from an old paratrooper!
    Ed

    Posted by Ed Harbeck | April 5, 2013 at 7:29 am
  • Great article and pictures. Huge gratitude to Jason and all smokejumpers for their bravery and dedication!

    Posted by Katie Sadler | April 5, 2013 at 11:32 am
  • Having been in and around the firefighting community for 20 years I can vouch for your words. I’ve picked up a couple of you guys literally in the middle of no where after you’ve had a 15 mile hike out. Respect the smoke jumper. Keep up the good work!

    Posted by Ryan Mansfield | April 6, 2013 at 7:32 pm
  • Hey Jason,
    Looking and sounding good in the interview, my friend. Keep that smokejumper high energy aura, alive in the present moment, engine running at full throttle.

    Posted by John N. Maclean | April 15, 2013 at 6:46 pm

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