Smokejumper Frequencies

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SCPD

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I recently received some information about the frequencies used by smokejumper crews. The national smokejumper air to ground frequency of 168.550 is well known. What isn't well known is the assignment of a tactical frequency for these crews. It is on 168.350, a widely used federal common frequency. To avoid having to hear other traffic they use a tone of 123.0 on both transmit and receive. Those in the east won't need this information as well as people not within listening distance of large area remote, unroaded federal public lands: National Parks, National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges and public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management. The air to ground frequency is used in handhelds, but sometimes topography and the altitude of the aircraft allows one to receive their airborne traffic from far away.

Smokejumper crews are located at West Yellowstone and Missoula, Montana; Boise, Grangeville and McCall, Idaho; Redmond, Oregon; Winthrop, Washington; Redding, California; and Fairbanks, Alaska. Their use is primarily in large unroaded areas as they can get more people to fires much faster and safer than using other means. I recently read that there are far fewer fatalities (only seven since smokejumper crews were formed) delivering smokejumpers to fires than by other means, including by helicopter.
 
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Smokejumper crews are located at West Yellowstone and Missoula, Montana; Boise, Grangeville and McCall, Idaho; Redmond, Oregon; Winthrop, Washington; Redding, California; and Fairbanks, Alaska. Their use is primarily in large unroaded areas as they can get more people to fires much faster and safer than using other means. I recently read that there are far fewer fatalities (only seven since smokejumper crews were formed) delivering smokejumpers to fires than by other means, including by helicopter.
There is also a smokejumper team based here in Grand Junction, CO at the BLM Air Center during fire season. I can confirm they use 168.55, but 168.35 is used locally as the BLM "Work" channel.
 

bryan_herbert

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THANK YOU!!! I had activity on 168.350 C123 last year during the Lightning Fire in Kern County. I asked around but nobody seemed to know who it belonged to. Their fixed wing was also using 173.7750 as an Air to Ground.
 

wyomingmedic

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The numbers of fatalities is far greater than 7. Heck, the Mann Gulch fire alone claimed a dozen or more (can't remember the exact numbers).

I ran around in the woods for years and worked with some of the jumpers once they landed :) and for a senior thesis I did a study of the Mann Gulch Fire and compared it to Storm King.

Then later that summer I was on Storm King on the Coal Seam Fire.

Creepy but interesting at the same time.

Brad
 

SCPD

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The numbers of fatalities is far greater than 7. Heck, the Mann Gulch fire alone claimed a dozen or more (can't remember the exact numbers).

I ran around in the woods for years and worked with some of the jumpers once they landed :) and for a senior thesis I did a study of the Mann Gulch Fire and compared it to Storm King.

Then later that summer I was on Storm King on the Coal Seam Fire.

Creepy but interesting at the same time.

Brad
I used the word "delivering" firefighters to fires for a reason. The Mann Gulch fire is very well known, but they died fighting the fire, not enroute to the fire, as the word "delivering" means in my sentence. You can put together 20 smokejumpers and have an Interagency Hotshot Crew, so they have as much exposure to hazardous fire conditions as regular shot crews have. The IHC's have a greater chance of being killed when they are delivered to a fire by helicopter than the smokejumper has getting to the same fire. Think of the dozens of helicopter crashes that have occurred since they started transporting crews to fires. The fatalities have been in the dozens, even before those firefighters had a chance to swing a Pulaski or shovel at the fire. Now compare that to the 7 smokejumpers who never put their fire tool in the dirt.

The smokejumper bases I listed are the permanent or season long base facilities for the crews. This is where recruits are screened and trained. The rookies take their first jumps as smokejumpers at one of those 9 bases. Due to differences in the timing of fire seasons and fuel moisture these nine bases send aircraft and personnel to operation bases. When I worked in R3 (AZ, NM) positioning one of the nine crews in Silver City happened almost every year. The Gila and the Lincoln (National Forests) often enter fire season in April, while R1 (MT, northern ID and ND) won't for another 2-3 months. Sometimes these pre-positioning assignments can last a month or more.

There is an approved list of operation bases but I don't have it in front of me. Grand Junction is on there, along with Silver City, Albuquerque, Cedar City and Battle Mountain. There are a few more but I don't recall them right now.

Storm King was an incredible tragedy. I lost a classmate to a fire on the western slope somewhere out of Grand Junction in 1976. Tony Czak was the Mormon Lake IHC superintendent. Much like Storm King, the blowup occurred in Gamble oak that had a surface fire that dried out the over story prior to the blowup, resulting in a rapid run when fire activity picked up due to wind a day or more later. Storm King was not worth it either. The same old story, no zoning by local authorities that addresses urban interface with homeowners who get nervous when they can see smoke from their homes.

I had been crew boss qualified for 8 years when everyone had to go through a Storm King training session. I told myself that I would never put a crew through a situation with similar ingredients. I had already refused an assignment on behalf of my crew in the 1988 fires in Yellowstone. It was about that time that NIFC put together written guidance about how to refuse assignments. The Storm King incident investigation revealed some long term problems with fire management in Grand Junction. Another crappy reason for 14 people losing their lives.
 
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wyomingmedic

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That makes sense I guess.

I would wonder what the minor injury rate is between the two if we are looking purely at transport and delivery. I worked single unit resource as a medic (YAY overhead) and cant tell you how many jumpers I saw with twisted ankles and messed up shoulders.

As a side note, I continued the medic gig but did get my taskbook open for Communications Unit Leader. I was wanting to get tied in with a team and did not want to do the Medical unit leader job. When I was real young, I was on several engine crews and would pull duty on a structure engine if one was needed on the board.

Go and break your back TWICE and the desire to continue that job went away.

I do miss it at times though.

WM
 

SCPD

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There is also a smokejumper team based here in Grand Junction, CO at the BLM Air Center during fire season. I can confirm they use 168.55, but 168.35 is used locally as the BLM "Work" channel.
Like I said, 168.350 is a federal government nationwide common frequency. You are likely to hear all sorts of agencies using it. What distinguishes its use by smokejumpers is the 123.0 tone. Tactical frequencies are not usually toned, so the likelihood of someone else, others than jumpers, using this frequency with a 123.0 tone is small. The only time tones are used on nationally assigned tac frequencies is when the tone is left on after using it on another channel used with repeaters. In that case the tone use is incidental and unintentional. Not a lot of handhelds have 168.350 in them anymore, making the chances of hearing a transmission on it with a 123.0 tone even less likely.
 

SCPD

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That makes sense I guess.

I would wonder what the minor injury rate is between the two if we are looking purely at transport and delivery. I worked single unit resource as a medic (YAY overhead) and cant tell you how many jumpers I saw with twisted ankles and messed up shoulders.

As a side note, I continued the medic gig but did get my taskbook open for Communications Unit Leader. I was wanting to get tied in with a team and did not want to do the Medical unit leader job. When I was real young, I was on several engine crews and would pull duty on a structure engine if one was needed on the board.

Go and break your back TWICE and the desire to continue that job went away.

I do miss it at times though.

WM
I don't think I mentioned one other statistic in relationship to smokejumpers. The injury rate is 7 per 1,000 jumps. Only 3 of those are "lost time" injuries, where the person has to miss some work days or hours. In that 3 there are the smokejumper career ending injuries. It would be interesting to have similar statistics for all the other types of crews and single resources.

A co-worker of mine told me that he treated a number of people in finance for paper cuts. It happened to me once when I was working as a resource unit leader. I treated it myself because I was too embarrassed to go to the medical unit.

I miss fires too, but my knees remind me to not miss it too much. If I still miss it all I have to do is remember facing a full chemical toilet first thing in the morning and then going to eat a breakfast of scrambled eggs for the umpty fromthup day in a row. This after not getting much sleep because of the generators going all night interrupted by PA announcements such as "Will the Crew Boss for Apache 6 please report to plans."

I know that I could have chosen the pancakes instead, but why were they always so cold by the time you sat down and poured that cold syrup on them? And then there were the sack lunches . . . .
 

hpycmpr

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When traveling the West I monitor the following national common frequencies. Sometimes boring, sometimes not. 163.1000, 168.3500, 167.9500, 163.7125, 173.6250. Many different users.

Steve
 

wyomingmedic

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LOL, I remember the toilets now. I would always wake up early and wait for the sound of the honey wagon whirring away as they sucked the poo. It was always a mad dash to the pooper when that happened. But if you got busy and fell in behind 4 or 5 ground crews, it was all over. Might as well go in the woods.

I was about 50/50 with my luck. As overhead, I usually managed an indoor toilet if we were put up at a fairgrounds or something. But on the reverse, I was sent to all sorts of spike camps and usually had to share a single port-o-john with a few dozen folks. And we were lucky if it got cleaned every few days.

I could always stomach most meals. What I hated were the MREs. Being spiked out for your 14 with MREs for 8 or 10 of those days. I began to understand the whole "Meal Reluctant to Exit" moniker. I worked with some vets from time to time and they told me they didn't eat that many MREs in the entire course of their Army time.

Ahhh memories. :)


WM
 

SCPD

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When traveling the West I monitor the following national common frequencies. Sometimes boring, sometimes not. 163.1000, 168.3500, 167.9500, 163.7125, 173.6250. Many different users.

Steve
Four frequencies were added to the list of federal government nationwide itinerant frequencies. Those four are now the official crew nets for intra-crew communications of a non-tactical nature. These frequencies are used to coordinate crew activities in camp ("did you say to pickup 4 Pulaskis and 2 McLeods, or was it 4 McLeods and 2 Pulaskis?), fireline logistics (hey, bring up saw mix when you bring up the water) and for travel (DO NOT STOP in Goldfield the food sucks there, go on to Tonopah).

Here are the four:

163.7125 National Crew - to be used while mobilizing crews at their home unit
167.1375 Primary Crew - to be used at the incident scene and for travel
168.6125 Secondary Crew - same as primary
173.6250 Tertiary Crew - same as primary

There are three incident scene crew nets so that multiple crews can use different nets to minimize interference. Crews have to use CTCSS tone guarding or are encouraged to use them in the digital mode with a unique NAC. These frequencies are shared with every agency in the federal government and are not exclusively assigned for crews. I haven't heard other agencies on them, but then I sort of live in the boonies and try to travel only in the boonies.

I've heard more traffic on 168.6125 then the other three. When I'm traveling and see the three vehicles of a hotshot crew in convoy I occasionally pick up some interesting chatter. Engine strike teams use these frequencies for travel. Their use varies by what geographical area they are from. Some areas have assigned 168.350 for all travel and other areas use other frequencies for travel. By areas I mean the 11 Geographic Area Coordination Centers. If you are not familiar with these here is a website that can take days to work through depending on your interests:

Geographic Area Coordination Center (GACC) Website Template
 
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