Rookie Training

Beginning in early May each year, rappeller rookie training is a five-week program designed to hone the skills and test the abilities of prospective rappellers. The curriculum is a mixture of classroom time and field-based work, including annual fire and saw refreshers, basic aviation and helicopter crew member indoctrination, and copious amounts of physical training. Midway through the training cycle, rookies can expect to enjoy five days in the field for Mountain Week. This experience is tailored to simulate many of the physical and mental stresses of remote firefighting. Finally, rookie training culminates with successful candidates being sent on to the National Rappel Academy in Salmon, Idaho.

National rappel academy

When helicopter rappelling was first introduced as a wildland firefighting tool, training for new rappellers was carried out at individual bases using signals and practices unique to each crew. As the program gathered steam, training began to be more standardized. in 2001, all Region 6 rappel programs began to meet for regional consolidated training, first in La Grande, OR for a year then in 2002 with the construction of new tower in John Day, OR.

In 2011, this idea was carried to the agency level with the introduction of the National Rappel Academy in Salmon, Idaho, providing a national standard of training for rappel operations in the USDA Forest Service. Since that time all Forest Service rookie rappeller candidates have been required to prove themselves at the Academy, producing rappellers and spotters who are ready to operate from any aircraft and any base in the program.

The National Rappel Academy is a performance-based training program, demanding a high level of physical and mental toughness of candidates. Training begins in ground school, progresses to the rappel tower and aircraft simulators, and culminates with live rappels in typical mountain terrain. Typically lasting from a week to twelve days, this is a highly regimented and demanding program, with each progression in the training sequence building upon the last; as such, the highest level of proficiency is required in each portion of the training. Failure is not uncommon. Those who succeed become part of the small and tight-knit community of helicopter rappellers.

2022 National Rappel Academy