Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Announcing the Mann Gulch Staff Ride

On August 5, 1949, fifteen USDA Forest Service smokejumpers and a Helena National Forest fire guard were entrapped by a spot from a wildfire about 20 miles north of Helena, Montana. The fire eventually burned almost 4,500 acres.

A lightning storm started numerous fires on the Helena District of the Helena National Forest on the afternoon of August 4. The Mann Gulch Fire was detected at about 12:00 PM on August 5th on a day with record-breaking temperatures. At about 3:00 PM when the smokejumpers from the Missoula Smokejumper Base were circling the fire in a C-47 airplane the fire was estimated to be between 50 and 60 acres. The fire behavior at that time appeared fairly minimal and the jumpers expected to easily have the fire lined and under control by 10:00 AM the next morning.

The jumpers parachuted into a spot up canyon and at a lower elevation than the fire. During the time the jumpers gathered their gear and had a quick bite to eat the fire became more active. This inspired the foreman to get his crew down gulch so that they could attack the fire from the heel. Their approach was mid-slope on the opposite aspect from the fire, allowing the firefighters to keep an eye on the fire across the way. During their movement down canyon, a spot fire that was previously unseen on their side of the gulch made a rapid upslope and up-canyon run, cutting off their access to the anchor point. The fire overran and killed most of the firefighters. Two firefighters escaped by slipping through a small notch in the rimrock at the top of the ridge. The foreman lit an escape fire, an emergency survival technique the smokejumpers had not been trained in, in an effort to consume the fuels ahead of the approaching blaze. After trying unsuccessfully to convince his crew to enter the burned area with him, he then lay down in the blackened area as the flame front passed over. He survived.

Much controversy surrounded the incident with investigation into training, standard procedures, and safety practices. It received attention in the national media at the time and has continued to be of interest into current times:

  • The incident created interest in scientific study of extreme fire behavior and better methods of predicting potential blow-up fire situations. This interest resulted in the development of the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory.
  • It was one of the fires studied in the development of the Ten Standard Firefighting Orders.
  • There was speculation by some that the escape fire the foreman lit was the cause of the fatalities.
  • The incident received national attention and inspired a feature-length movie released in 1952 – Red Skies of Montana as well as an article in Life Magazine.
  • The story was researched and written about by Norman Maclean in Young Men and Fire.
The Mann Gulch Staff Ride resource is a product of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee. Project team members were:

David Bihr – U.S. Forest Service, Missoula Smokejumpers
Marvin Carpenter – U.S. Forest Service, Helena National Forest
Jim Cook – U.S. Forest Service, National Interagency Fire Center
Dan Cottrell – U.S. Forest Service, Missoula Smokejumpers
Sue Curd – Bureau of Land Management, National Interagency Fire Center
Paul Fieldhouse – U.S. Forest Service, Northern Rockies Training Center
Angela Harvieux – U.S. Forest Service, Great Northern Fire Crew R1
Kelli Hochmuht - U.S. Forest Service, Great Northern Fire Crew R1
Colby Jackson – U.S. Forest Service, Missoula Smokejumpers
Bob Kambitsch – Bureau of Land Management, National Interagency Fire Center
Giselle Koehn – U.S. Forest Service, Great Northern Fire Crew R1
Lori Messenger – U.S. Forest Service, Missoula Smokejumpers
Bill Miller – U.S. Forest Service, Great Northern Fire Crew R1
Morgan Pence – U.S. Forest Service, Great Northern Fire Crew R1
Justin Underwood – U.S. Forest Service, Great Northern Fire Crew R1
Nina Walker – Bureau of Land Management, National Interagency Fire Center

A special thanks to the following individuals who were instrumental in their support of the development of the Mann Gulch Staff Ride:

Paul Chamberlin – Fish and Wildlife Service (retired)
Jeff Scussel – U.S. Forest Service, Northern Region Office (retired)
Dave Turner – U.S. Forest Service, Helena National Forest (retired)
Edmund Ward – U.S. Forest Service, Missoula Smokejumpers (retired)

Check out the Mann Gulch Staff Ride and other staff rides in the Staff Ride Library.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Canadian Wildland Firefighting in 4D

Science North, an agency of the Government of Ontario, is showcasing wildland fire, including an exhibit and 4D movie, Wildfires!

"Adrenaline rushes through your body as you witness the unfolding drama of Wildfires! A Firefighting Adventure in 4D. Feel the excitement as a ground crew, transported by helicopter into the remote wilderness, tries to contain the rapidly spreading fire. Ride along with the Air Attack Officer as operations are directed from a seat high above the blaze. Be the co-pilot in a CL 415 water bomber as it undertakes the difficult and sometimes dangerous mission of controlling a major forest fire from the air, swooping down to pick up a load of water and dropping it at the centre of the action. Experience Wildfires! in the Science North Vale Cavern."

Monday, December 19, 2011

Exposing Our Roots: 1999 - 2001




Monday, December 12, 2011

"Invictus" is Here!

Thanks to the efforts of the Klamath Hotshots, another Leadership in Cinema lesson plan is available for your use in leadership development. The Invictus lesson plan chronicles Nelson Mandela's use of South Africa's national rugby team, the Springboks, to unite a nation.

Feel free to use the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program's Facebook page to discuss the movie and promote discussion across the program.

If you would like to create a lesson plan for the program, visit the Leadership in Cinema website.

You are a Leader 24/7

There is nothing worse than a hypocritical leader--one who does not lead by example.

After watching the video, consider the following:

  • Do you set a good example for others to follow?
  • What changes do you want to see?
  • What practices do you use as a leader to ensure that you are giving the most to your leadership position?
  • What can you share with other leaders about leading by example?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

"Practice Makes Permanent"

Do you have "Dan days" built into your schedule?

Are you caring for yourself mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually?

Fireline Leadership Challenges:

  • Share your methods of "practice makes perfect" as a wildland fire leader.
  • Mentor someone.

Monday, December 5, 2011

An Enduring Leadership Legacy……….

Having just returned from the 2011 Fall NWCG Leadership Subcommittee meeting in Tucson, Arizona, I have been reflecting on my experience over the last five years as a member of the subcommittee. Specifically, how Committee Co-Chair Jim Cook will be missed as a result of his upcoming and well deserved retirement.

For those readers of this blog that are unaware, Jim was one of the principle founders of this committee and has been the "point person" that led the development of the NWCG leadership curriculum. The development and delivery of this curriculum has led to an organizational culture change that has positively benefited firefighters throughout the United States and Australia. Jim Cook, Paul Gleason, Mark Linane and other wildland fire service leaders turned the tragedy that was the 1994 South Canyon Fire into an opportunity for all of us to better understand the role that human factors play and how they affect critical decision making on the fireground.

I first met Jim Cook in 1985 when he was the Superintendent of the Arrowhead Hotshots and I was a Foreman with the Kern Valley Hotshots. As a result of our hotshot crews being two of the four Southern Sierra region Type 1 hotshot crews, we had many opportunities to work together locally, statewide and nationally. However, I lost touch with Jim and many other wildland fire service friends and co-workers after the 1990 fire season as a result of my being hired by the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department. Over the next 10-15 years, we would on occasion run into each other at retirement parties (more like hotshot reunions) and training sessions. I was honored and felt privileged to have been asked by Jim to represent local government on the subcommittee and was even more humbled to step in behind former USFS Hotshot and current Santa Barbara County Fire Department Crew Superintendent Mark Linane.

Looking back, what I admired most about Jim as his career progressed and eventually took him away from leading hotshot crews was his passion for improving safety on the fireline and I'm not talking about through the traditional means of the day. He and other wildland fire service leaders were determined to empower first-level leaders by way of their understanding and applying time proven principle-based leadership concepts in a way that had not been attempted in the past. Out of this effort and over the years was born the L-180, L-280, L-380, L-381, L-480 and L-580 curriculum. The leadership curriculum now targets every level of organizational leadership…..from the first year firefighter to those leading and managing large organizations.

The NWCG Leadership Subcommittee is primarily charged with managing this curriculum in terms of assuring that new and/or obsolete material is updated, the lead instructors are of the highest quality, etc. There is no way of knowing for sure how many tragedies have been avoided over the years the curriculum has been delivered, but speaking for my own agency, I have several anecdotal instances where fire captains and battalion chiefs have shared with me decisions they made that contributed to the positive outcome of an incident and that may not have occurred without their having been provided the leadership training. I have many more stories of how the leadership skills they developed as a result of the training have led to positive non-emergency-incident related decisions being made as well.

While having dinner and beverages with Jim and the other members of the subcommittee the night before everyone traveled home to their home units, we asked Jim to share with us how many firefighters he estimated he affected over his career. He immediately went about figuring out the math specific to his time as a hotshot superintendent. As it ended up, this was several hundred firefighters. It was at his point that one of the more tenured committee members reminded Jim of all that had been accomplished as a result of his leading this committee since its inception........this brought about a more reflective pause. Ever the humble guy, Jim thanked everyone for their kind words, and as anyone that knows Jim would expect, he immediately began deflecting any praise for his efforts and began to focus all of us on how we need to continue to innovate and advocate for improved fire service leadership.

Lastly, I want to personally thank Jim for his friendship over all of these years and for also including state and local government fire service agencies in the leadership/culture change initiative. The excitement surrounding these training courses is spreading quickly as was experienced when first introduced to the wildland fire community many years ago.

Jim Cook will be formally retiring from the USFS in December 2011. His retirement party will be held on February 19 in Boise, Idaho.

Jim leaves an honorable legacy behind him and I'm confident that those that know Jim and read this blog may have an example or two that they may want to blog concerning some of how Jim and/or his efforts behind the development and implementation of the leadership curriculum may have affected them personally and/or those that they now lead or those they have lead in the past.

Thanks Jim!!!

Brian Fennessy
Assistant Fire Chief
San Diego Fire-Rescue Department