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Mann Gulch Case Essay

“Prepare the Mann Gulch case with emphasis on interagency coordination and conflicts and propose one specific measure to prevent a recurrence.”

On August 5, 1949 there was a terrible tragedy at Mann Gulch, Montana which resulted in twelve men losing their lives. The scenario involved a large wild fire and fifteen men who were employed as United States Forest Service smokejumpers, which were responsible for parachuting in and using techniques to control, contain, and extinguish the fire (Roberto & Ferlins, 2003). At the end of the day there were only three survivors and many left pondering the issue of what had gone wrong.

When the fifteen men jumped into the fire that day they were nearly strangers. According to Roberto & Ferlins, “The USFS assigned smokejumpers to fires on a rotating basis; thus, an individual did not fight each blaze along with the same set of colleagues. When a man fought a fire, his name went to the bottom of the list of available fighters,” (2003, p.2). I think that it would be beneficial to create teams that always work together. By doing this, every smokejumper is familiar with each the people on the team and how everyone works.

There will be a bond created between the men by doing this and a trust will be built. When the team leader, Dodge, realized the situation he and his men in was life threatening he ordered his men to drop their tools and follow him. Instead the men, not knowing and trusting Dodge, ran the other way. If all the team members were familiar with each other and worked with each other on a consistent basis they would have had established trust. As a result they would have been more likely to listen to the team leader, which would have saved their lives.

Another major issue that day was communication between involved parties. Right from the start they knew it was not a typical fire. The conditions were especially rough that day, so much so that the jumpers could not be dropped directly above the fire as they usually are. Instead they were dropped at an alternate location, where an emergency helicopter could not even reach them. Then due to the high winds, their equipment was spread over a large area, leaving them to collect it. During this the only radio that was available to the crew was lost (Roberto & Ferlins, 2003). Involved parties should have communicated from the beginning.

They knew the situation was dangerous because of the terrain of the area where the fire was burning. In addition, they had to combat high winds, adding extra peril to the situation. If other parties had communicated the smokejumpers would not have been dropped into this dangerous scenario or they would have entered from a different, safer point. Once on the ground they were cut off from all communication because they lost their only radio. Every crew member should be equipped with a personal radio so they can communicate with each other as well as other people who should be in place observing the pattern and conditions of the fire. This way if things with the fire change, such as direction or increased speed, the crew members will know about it.

The last thing that would be important for the smokejumpers is training. They each go through intensive physical trainings, but their knowledge is at different levels. When team leader Dodge lit an escape fire none of the other men knew what he was doing. If they had been trained on this and understood what was occurring they would not have panicked and fled. If they had the knowledge of what an escape fire could do, their lives would have been spared. If many small adjustments had been made that day the outcome may have been drastically different.


Roberto, M.A. & Ferlins, E.M. (2003). Fire at Mann Gulch. Cambridge, MA: Harvard. Harvard Case Product Number: 9-304-089

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