Meet the elite firefighters who parachute directly into wildfires

These elite firefighters parachute directly into wildfires

Phil Lind is part of an elite team of wild-land firefighters known as "smoke jumpers" – brave men and women who skydive from death-defying heights into remote, flame-engulfed locations that are not easily accessible by road.

Phil Lind

Since the group often works miles from civilization, they typically don't have access to the most basic firefighting tools, like water and hoses.

USDA Forest Service

Instead, they use hand tools and chainsaws.

USDA Forest Service

"The point is to take everything down to bare mineral soil — anything that has the ability to transmit fire," Lind tells CNBC. "It's ditch-digging at its finest."

USDA Forest Service

Lind and the other smoke jumpers often work grueling 16-hour days, sometimes weeks at a time.


"People I've worked with have died in the line of duty. It's something that's part of the job," Lind says. "It's sobering. And that's why I take great pride in doing it."

The fun part of the job, Lind says, is jumping out of the airplane.


"It's our three minutes of good times," he explains. "Once you hit the ground, you're working like every other firefighter."

The flames aren't the only hazard. Some of Lind's landings have left him with broken bones, and he was once impaled by a tree branch.

USDA Forest Service

"I've been told by every doctor you won't come back," Lind recalls. "They told me you won't walk right again. You won't walk without a cane." And yet, he does.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average firefighter earns $49,080. Lind tells CNBC he grosses quite a bit more than that — roughly $85,000 a year. But he doesn't do it for the money.

"I've yet to work with a firefighter who does it for the money," Lind says. "I think it's important that we protect the natural resources that we have." For Lind, what ultimately boils down to are the people.

"I love my job because of the kind of people I get to work with. Everyone I work with has my back. I work hard to have their back. How could I not love working for a job where it's got people like that in it?"

–CNBC's Melissa Lustrin and Christopher DiLella contributed to this report.