Rick Rataj, U.S. Forest Service, Redding, Calif.
By Interview by Jia Lynn Yang

(FORTUNE Magazine) – PEOPLE SAY, "OH, WOW, SMOKEJUMPING? YOU jump out of planes and fight fires?" But a typical day is not very glorious. We show up at the base for roll call, and then we'll do a weather report and have a break for some physical activity. After that we do work at the base, mostly repairing parachutes or packing up bags. July, August, and September are typically the busiest months for us--most folks work for six months, then take the winter off. I just love the whole part about flying over some really bitchin' beautiful terrain, and jumping out of the plane makes you feel alive. But it's tough to negotiate your parachute to get into your target area. I remember on one of my first fires I miscalculated and landed in a pine tree, probably 80 feet tall. I had to rappel down with all the guys laughing at me. We fight fire with fire, so you're toting a one-gallon silver cylinder mixed three to one with diesel and gas, and you're walking with it, and you're dripping, putting fire on the ground. You're in the heat of battle, so to speak, so you don't really notice it's uncomfortable until you're done, and then you're like, Wow, I'm all dirty and sweaty, and it's really hot. -- Interview by Jia Lynn Yang