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UM Does Research On Smoke Jumper Equipment Lighter

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MISSOULA -

The University of Montana's College of Education and Human Sciences is researching ways to make the Missoula smoke jumper's jobs easier during the wildfire season. They're researching ways to help smoke jumpers carry their heavy equipment more efficiently.

Fighting wildfires in the summer heat is not an easy job, especially when you add more than 100 pounds of heavy equipment to the mix.

"No one's really looked at that type of weight, especially over that type of terrain, and hiking miles on end," UM graduate student Michael Powell said.

He's studying Exercise Science at UM with an focus in bio mechanics. Powell is part of a team of students in the field working in the university's bio mechanic lab to come up with ways to help smoke jumpers carry a lighter load.

"We're really trying to help them move about and do their job better, I mean, they are carrying anywhere from 120 to 125 pounds, hiking three miles and actually jumping in with this load as well," Powell said.

The bio mechanics lab is part of Phyllis J. Washington Education Center. It includes advanced research equipment for the study of human movement.

"If you're having to stop and adjust your packs or take breaks, you're not effective," said Dr. Charlie Palmer, the Associate Professor of the health and human performance department. He was a smoke jumper for 10 years, and has been involved in the project since the idea formed. He said the best work in this field is done in the lab.

"You're able to come up with better product, as opposed to trial and error in the field," Palmer said.

The project is in the preliminary stages. Some of the tests include having smoke jumpers carry their packs on a treadmill, so researchers can collect data on their energy. Smoke jumpers also walked across force plates with packs so researchers see how they can better distribute the weight.

"It's a lot of weight for them to be carrying, and we just want them to utilize what they can," Powell said.

He said they hope to have the study done in time to help smoke jumpers next fire season. The project is one of several studies UM's Department of Health and Human Sciences is conducting to help firefighters.

Research is funded by the U.S. Forest Service, and the USDA's Missoula Technology and Development Center.

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