These are your stories #64 – The Smokejumper

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This time we have the incredible tale of William “Little Jake” Colson. To call it anything else would be unjust. The original email was sent by his wife Marie and from what I gather it was her influence that finally gave Little Jake the push he needed to share this one. I tried to get the couple to join us on the show, but alas they could not be swayed. I did have a wonderful chat with them and this is the story they told me. But before we get to it a little background is in order. William is a retired fireman, but not your friendly neighborhood type, he was a smokejumper for the United States Forest service. Smokejumpers are most often deployed to fires that are extremely remote. The risks associated with this are unmeasurable. Smokejumpers are capable of reaching a wildfire shortly after ignition when it is still relatively small. They extinguish the blaze before it becomes a problem to land managers and the public. When not jumping out of perfectly good airplanes they are used for disaster relief and emergency management. The earliest known use of smoke jumping was in 1934 by the soviets.

Okay, now for Little Jake’s Story in his own words!

The Smoke Jumper

Finally, a fire call!  The call came in at about 4pm on Thursday.  For a few days it had been pretty quiet and there wasn’t any lightning forecast for the day so it came as a surprise. The fire, as it turned out, was a lightning strike from several days prior, it had just been smoldering around until some wind came up and started to fan the flames. This fire seemed pretty straight forward… we jumped it and put a line around it. The next day, with the help of a few helicopter drops, we had the thing cold. Now we would just settle in and watch just to make sure it didn’t spark up again. There was a small town close by and it would be at risk if it were to do so. We would take shifts, walk the line looking for any break-outs or burns. Very dull work when you can get it.  

The dry season sucks, there is no better way to put it.  No matter how careful you are you can’t see everything and fire can hide in some of the strangest places you can imagine. However, underground is pretty rare. As I walked, I felt the ground become hot and before I could react the whole mountainside just slipped from beneath my feet. I fell into, from my perspective, the gates of hell.  Hot coals, burnt wood and raging heat greeted me. Cursing, I pulled my shield down in an attempt to protect myself.  It would not be enough. I was not wearing gloves and had exposed skin on my face, hands and ankles. A mistake I never made again.  

I grabbed my radio, it was still working and called to base. I tried to remain calm but the voice on the other end clearly said, “Will say again, a mountain fell on you?” Breathing was close to impossible, but somehow I managed to calm myself and try again. I gave my approximate position and reported that I had fallen into a sinkhole of some sort. It was then that the radio sparked and went dead.

I looked around the area and saw a dark spot. The thought came to me, “head to the light”, I laughed at my joke, but in this case that was the last thing I wanted to do. Dark could mean no fire and less heat. Hopeless, scared and nearly passing out I got there. The first thing I did was grab my canteen, soak a cloth and put it around my mouth. It was not as hot, but the smoke was thick and I thought for sure this was how I was going to die. I thought of my wife and family and promises I made to do this thing or that thing. I settled in and waited. After another minute I felt myself drift off, a flash of bright light and then nothing.

My next memory was waking up on a stretcher. My buddies had pulled me out of that hell hole and were carrying me to the waiting chopper. I tried to thank them right then and there but my voice didn’t work, something about a pen stuck in my neck. The flight to the hospital was uneventful and my recovery was long and painful. I got to thank the guys and even gave Robbie  a nod who had stuck the pen in my throat to get me breathing again. As soon as I was cleared I went right back to work and did the job for a total of six years. I stayed with the forestry department, but not as a smokejumper. That is a young man’s game.  – William “Little Jake” Colson

Okay, that has to be the most incredible story we have had at Ron’s Amazing Stories. To survive that and to be able to return to work… amazing. I want to thank the Colson’s for sharing their story. 

This Week’s Podcast:

On the podcast this week we present something different. Have you have heard of the 2005 Bard Pitt movie Mr. & Mrs. Smith?  Well, did you know there was another movie made with the same name in 1941. This week we have the radio adaption of that movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock. You can listen to this podcast on Thursday at Ron’s Amazing Stories, download it from Apple Podcasts, stream it on Stitcher Radio or on the mobile version of Spotify. Do you prefer the radio? We are heard every Thursday at 10:00 pm and Sunday Night at 11:00 PM (EST) on AMFM247.COM. Check your local listing or find the station closest to you at this link

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