Alaska Fire Service Smokejumpers Receive National Recognition
Fairbanks – Two veterans of the Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service have been recognized for their outstanding accomplishments last year. Those accomplishments included working together to initiate a new combined training for first-year smokejumpers in Idaho and Alaska.
Chris Swisher of Fairbanks and Ben Oakleaf of Boise, Idaho, were named winners of the 2013 “Al Dunton Smokejumper Leadership Award,” which recognizes outstanding accomplishments of BLM and Forest Service smokejumper personnel.
Swisher and Oakleaf were nominated for their work combining first-year smokejumper training for Alaska and Great Basin rookie smokejumpers. Combined rookie training was conducted in the past but for a dozen years, the Alaska and Great Basin rookie jumpers trained separately. The 2012 training was a huge success, and is planned again this year. Training together provides added value for the jumpers, including developing familiarity with firefighters that are likely to work together on fires.
“The more we know each other and about each other, the more seamless it is when we integrate the crews,” says Oakleaf.
Oakleaf and Swisher started their careers together on the Midnight Sun Interagency Hotshot Crew with the BLM Alaska Fire Service and have been good friends for over a decade. Their supervisors describe the two as having a great work ethic and outstanding attitudes. Swisher jumps out of Fort Wainwright, Alaska and Oakleaf, a Great Basin smokejumper, is based in Boise, Idaho.
“It [The award] was a surprise,” says Swisher, “I didn’t know anything about it until I was told that I won.” Oakleaf added, “I didn’t even know I was nominated until the jumper manager called me into his office and told me. I was very surprised.”
The award is named after Al Dunton, who served as a rookie smokejumper in Fairbanks in 1967. He managed the smokejumper base there from 1972 through 1984 and remained active in fire management throughout his career. The award was established by the interagency smokejumper base managers and the National Smokejumper Association, with the support of Al Dunton’s wife, Mary, and other family members.