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Local Smokejumper Celebrates 70 Years Of Smokejumping
By Echo Menges
Dayton Grover of Edina recently took a trip to Redding, California to celebrate 70 years of Smoke-jumping at the National Smokejumpers Association Reunion. Smokejumper’s Reunions are typically held in the western United States and are attended by past jumpers, pilots, associates and their families.
The three-day event featured barbecues, activities, photo-ops, a visit to a local Smoke-umper Base, and a Memorial Service.
Grover spent seven seasons as a Smokejumper in the 1950’s and 1960’s. He also worked as a ground firefighter for two summers.
I was able to sit and talk with Grover about his experiences as a Smokejumper and his trip to California to attend the reunion. Anyone who knows him, knows what a character he is.
He recounted all the changes he’s been able to watch the Association go through over the years saying he remembered when women and people over 40 weren’t allowed to jump. He talked all about the Association has changed for the better over they years.
“If you were over 28 (years old) they wouldn’t accept you. And you had to get out when you were 40.” Said Grover. “A guy sued them in 1972 because he was 48 years old. (He won the suit) And they had to accept him. He jumped for 13 years to age 61.” Adding, “When he sued them it changed their whole culture.” Grover went on talk about how after the law suit the Association began accepting women and people over 40 as jumpers, which they didn’t do before the 1970’s. He also thought they started taking more jumpers of color after the suit in the 1970’s.
“My base in 1963 had 160 people and only two of them were women. A secretary and an accountant.” Said Grover. “It was crazy.”
He talked in great depth about how interesting it’s been for him to be able to watch the Association change and grow over the years. Back when Grover was jumping there were only four Smoke-jumper Bases in the country. Now there are 13.
Grover said, “In 1958 they got me out of the Army early so I could jump, which I appreciated.” And talked all about what Smoke-jumping was like.
“When you jumped you went two at a time. One after another.” Said Grover. “They used to drop everything to us. They’d drop an entire fire pack with food and everything. Generally it was a dry fire. You fought it with dirt. I’d jump on some fires and it was just a log and others were several hundred acres. This is why they call them Smokejumpers, they jump on the smoke. The idea behind smoke jumping is to stop (the fire) at it’s start.”
“It’s kind of a melancholy event in a way.” Said Grover about this year’s reunion. He pointed out that many of the members he jumped with aren’t around anymore.
“I’ve got some health issues and I almost didn’t go this time.” Said Grover. “But because I missed 2007 I said no matter what I’m going to go this year. If it weren’t for my daughters I never would have made it.” Adding, “I’m glad I went.”