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Parachute training accident leaves Redmond smokejumper facing up to year of recovery, without firefighting work

(Update: adding video, comments from smokejumper, Forest Service)

REDMOND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Fifteen-year U.S. Forest Service wildland firefighter Ben Elkind is at his home in Redmond, recovering from a parachute training accident.

It's a situation he knew was possible, but never thought would be a reality. 

“You just think that you’re not going to hurt right so, I’m kind of surprised,” Elkind told NewsChannel 21 on Monday. 

Elkind, a nine-year smokejumper, was transitioning from the low-performance parachute he’s familiar with to a new, high-performance chute.

While training near Black Butte Ranch on Sunday, May 15, he came into his landing zone too fast, and with low winds, he dropped from nearly 20 feet in the air. 

“My left leg just kind of -- the femur head shot out through the socket, and the way it did that -- I don’t want to say shattered, but it broke my pelvis into like six pieces in the back,” Elkind said. 

He said there were no issues with the parachute itself, but he was still adjusting to using it.

Deschutes National Forest Public Affairs Officer Jean Nelson-Dean confirmed that "one of our smokejumpers experienced a hard landing on a proficiency jump" and had been hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries."

Experienced smokejumpers do many proficiency jumps during this time of the year, to prepare for the upcoming fire season," she told NewsChannel 21 last week.

Six fractures, three plates and 10 screws later, Elkind is looking at a 6-12 month recovery before he can get back to fighting fires and providing for his family.

“You know you lose that income and it is -- you don’t want to make a big deal out of it, and I'm never going to complain about it, but you just kind of lay there in bed and crunch some numbers about the reality of the situation,” Elkind said. 

Elkind, who normally works between 500 and 800 hours of overtime each fire season, is a big advocate of fair pay and benefits for firefighters.

In March, he traveled to Washington D.C. to speak with the secretary of labor, and brought up a situation like this, back when it was just a hypothetical concern.

“Man, If I get injured, I lose all my overtime. I lose all my hazard pay,” Elkind explained to the Cabinet member. “He was like, Whoa, that’s crazy!’ And I was like, 'Yeah!' And then -- you can’t make it up, like it happened to me.”

Now, Elkind is stuck on crutches for the next 2-3 months, with a long road of recovery ahead of him.

He's excited to spend this extra time with his family, but certainly has a return to the skies in sight.

NewsChannel 21 asked Elkind if he'll try to jump again next year. 

“Oh, yeah! I mean. that’s the plan," he said. "I think that’s good motivation.” 

Nelson-Dean told NewsChannel 21 Monday, on behalf of the Forest Service: "We are all hoping for a speedy recovery for Ben and many people are reaching out to help support him and his family at this time through the GoFundMe page set up by the Redmond Smokejumpers Welfare Association."

Author Profile Photo

Noah Chast

Noah Chast is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Noah here.

Comments

10 Comments

  1. Suck it up Nancy. I horse wrecked and busted 18 bones. 14 surgeries, plates, pins, screws, well over 3 1/2 years without work, horses and family to feed. And that don’t even scratch the surface

    1. Let’s all pay attention to this boomer for a minute.
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      OK, now let’s all get back to the story about the actual hero that got hurt.

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