Trade Stories: Jason Ramos, Smokejumper
Jason 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 had a brother who was a wildland firefighter when I was growing up, it was something I’d seen on documentaries, on TV, and in books; and I took that path.
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].
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.