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A Walk in Mann Gulch 

Learning Leadership from the Fire of August 5, 1949   

A Climb on Storm King Mountain, Colorado:
Learning Leadership from the South Canyon Fire of July 6, 1994

Co-organized by

 Eric Carlson, U.S. Marine Corps, Quantico, Virginia
James Cook, National Interagency Fire Center, Boise, Idaho
James Steele, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Missoula, Montana
Larry Sutton, National Interagency Fire Center, Boise, Idaho
Michael Useem, Wharton Center for Leadership and Change, Philadelphia, Pa. 

Purpose 

Wagner Dodge lead a group of firefighters into Mann Gulch to fight a fire on August 5, 1949, and within two hours of landing in the gulch, the fire had blown up and fatally burned thirteen of sixteen firefighters.  By walking the fateful path that Dodge and his crew followed from its drop zone at 5 pm to the lethal end just before 6 pm, we seek to better understand how individual and team leadership shaped the course of events in the gulch.  We build our appreciation for the capacities of leadership that make a difference when a team is facing a fast-moving, rapidly-changing, and intensely stressful field of action.  Among the qualities that we focus upon are those of  thinking strategically, communicating effectively, and acting decisively.   We also be examine the role of risk awareness and rapid decision making. 

Our method is to become steeped in the conditions Dodge and his team confronted when they arrived in Mann Gulch and the decisions they made to attack the fire and then seek escape from it.  For this we read what is available before arriving in the gulch, and we devote the day to walking the path that Dodge and his crew followed, re-examining the decisions and actions that Dodge took at a dozen key points.  During the walk, we stop frequently to review the team’s movements and identify the emerging lessons for leadership and teamwork whatever the setting.  At the end of the day, our evening discussion focuses upon the key implications for leadership and decision-making in high speed, high-stakes environments.  A video team accompanied our walk on July 19, 2001 to prepare a film that brings out the main leadership lessons for managers in a range of institutions, from fire protection and the armed forces to business management and public administration.   

Photos by Mike Useem; click for additional photos by Eric Carlson and James Cook

Reading 

Norman Maclean, Young Men and Fire.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. 

Richard Rothermel, Mann Gulch: A Race That Couldn’t Be Won.  U.S. Forest Service:  Intermountain Research Station, 1993 (available at http://www.treesearch.fs.fed.us/pubs/viewpub.jsp?index=4613).  

Michael Useem, The Leadership Moment: Nine True Stories of Triumph and Disaster and Their Lessons for Us All.  New York: Random House, 1998.  Chapter 2, “Wagner Dodge Retreats in Mann Gulch.”   

Other reading:   

Bret Butler, Roberta A. Bartlette, Larry S. Bradshaw, Jack D. Cohen, Patricia L. Andrews, Ted Putnam, and Richard J. Mangan, Fire Behavior Associated with the 1994 Storm Fire on Storm King Mountain.  U.S. Forest Service:  Rocky Mountain Research Station, 1998. 

B. W. Butler, J. D. Cohen, T. Putnam, R. A. Bartlette, and L. S. Bradshaw, “Escape Routes: An Anecdotal Evaluation.”  Draft article, 2001. 

John N. Maclean, Fire on the Mountain: The True Story of the South Canyon Fire.  New York: William Morrow & Co, 1999.    

Karl E. Weich, "The Collapse of Sensemaking in Organizations: The Mann Gulch Disaster," Administrative Science Quarterly, 1993, Vol. 38, pp. 628-652. 

Participants on walk of july 19, 2001

U.S. Marine Corps 

Lt. Col. Eric H. Carlson, Director of Operations, Marine Corps University; carlsoneh@tecom.usmc.mil

1st Lt. James A. Walker, First Marine Expeditionary Force, U.S. Marine Corps; Walkerja@3mawyuma.usmc.mil.

National Interagency Fire Center and Related Agencies 

Tom Boatner, State Fire Management Officer, Bureau of Land Management, Montana; Tom_Boatner@blm.gov.

James Cook, Training Projects Coordinator, USFS-Fire Safety Program, National Interagency Fire Center, Boise, Idaho; jrcook@fs.fed.us

Bryan Day, Instructional Media Unit, Bureau of Land Management; Bryan_Day@blm.gov. 

Bob Kambitsch, Instructional Media Unit, Bureau of Land Management; Bob_Kambitsch@blm.gov. 

Mark Linane, Training Specialist, Ventura County Fire Department, Camarillo, California; lpsupe@aol.com. 

James Steele, Northern Rockies Training Center, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Missoula, Montana; jsteele01@fs.fed.us. 

Larry Sutton, Program Leader, BLM Training, National Interagency Fire Center, Boise, Idaho; larry_Sutton@nifc.blm.gov

Dave Turner, Public Affairs Officer, Helena District, Helena National Forest; dturner@fs.fed.us.

Bob Wing, Aviation Training Specialist, Northern Rockies Training Center; bwing@fs.fed.us.

Wharton Center for Leadership and Change 

Mark Davidson, Wharton Leadership Ventures; Lake Tahoe, Nevada; mrd47@yahoo.com.

Neil A. Doherty, Professor of Insurance and Risk Management, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pa.; doherty@wharton.upenn.edu.  

Michael Useem, Professor of Management and Director of the Center for Leadership and Change, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pa.; useem@wharton.upenn.edu.

     

 
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