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Fire at Mann Gulch Case Solution

Solution Id Length Case Author Case Publisher
2671 1422 Words (6 Pages) Michael A. Roberto, Erika M. Ferlins Harvard Business School : 304089
This solution includes: A Word File A Word File

The case revolves around an unfortunate event that took place at Mann Gulch, Montana, on August 5, 1949. The frequent drought and lightning storms caused a Class C fire (10-99 acres) which escalated quickly into the highest possible rating, a Class F fire (300+ acres). Twelve smoke jumpers led by foreman Wagner Dodge were unable to pull through the fire. There were three survivors Rumsey, Sallee, and Dodge. The case also highlights details about the environmental and geographical factors of Mann Gulch, which rapidly spread the fire, the wrong decisions made by Dodge, which caused distrust and confusion among his crew, and the inexperience of the smokejumpers to handle stress. These theories are considered the reasons for those human casualties. Nevertheless, the fire at Mann Gulch acted as a lesson for the Forest Service to develop 10 Firefighting Standard Orders, understand the behavior of fire and keep firefighting safety a priority.

Following questions are answered in this case study solution

  1. What were the causes of the tragedies?

  2. Compare and contrast Dodge’s leadership at Mann Gulch with Blanco and Mackey’s leadership at Storm King Mountain. What mistakes did they make as leaders?

  3. Why did the firefighters follow Mackey’s orders to build a fire line downhill, despite their reservations and doubts, while ignoring Dodge’s sound orders to join him in the escape fire?

Case Analysis for Fire at Mann Gulch

1. What were the causes of the tragedies?

There were three causes of the tragedies: the inevitable fire situation at Mann Gulch, poor leadership demonstrated by Dodge, and panic consequent from the crew’s inexperience. Firstly, the fire started on the south side of Mann Gulch as a Class C fire (10 -99 acres). The area was heavily forested, which made the fire slow-moving but hot. When the fire moved up the steep and grassy north side, it intensified. The fire turned into a Class F fire (300+ acres). Before the landing of the crew, the wind speed was around 14 to 22 miles per hour. After they approached the area, the wind speed went higher to around 20 and 30 miles per hour. Furthermore, the fire blocked Dodge’s backup plan of escaping through the river. He and the crew could not outrun the rapidly spreading fire because of the rocky incline. As the mounting fire and the steep landscape made the blowup imminent, twelve smoke jumpers died in the fire.

Secondly, Dodge exhibited poor leadership by making many small mistakes which, when combined, caused huge losses. He did not make an informed decision of putting the life and safety of the smokejumpers first by landing at a place that was inaccessible by the plane in case of an injured crew. Furthermore, he did not communicate with the crew regarding his plan and the contingency plan in his mind. He was not deeply concerned about the seriousness of the fire. He also left his crew unsupervised twice, which confused them. Although Hellman was second in command, he did not have sufficient experience of a foreman’s responsibilities. Thus, he could not bring them together. The lack of communication, delegation, and trust created distrust between the crew and the leader. They did not comply with his order when he lit an escape fire and asked them to join him, which led to this unfortunate event. 

Lastly, the smokejumpers did not have adequate experience in dealing with any crisis during the fire. The nine members of the crew were about to witness their first season, while the other four were in their second season. They did not pack backup radios or maps of the area. When they were surrounded by the fire and could not outrun it, they did not follow Dodge’s orders. They panicked and could not make any logical or quick decisions hence, the tragedies.

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