On August 5, 1949, a fire started on the south side of Mann Gulch due to a lightning strike. Four hours later, a 15-man smokejumpers team arrived to fight the fire (Reeves, 2019). Due to a change in wind direction, the fire increased dramatically, leading to an emergency among the people there. Seeing that the situation was beginning to spiral out of control, Dodge ordered his teammates to drop their gear and quickly climb back up the gorge. However, the fire was rapidly catching up with them, so the foreman decided to use the tactics of emergency fire (Reeves, 2019). The use of escape fire during the Mann Gulch fire was the first documented use of this tactic, indicating an on-the-fly emergency innovation (Reeves, 2019). However, the lack of cohesion, trust, and adequate communication and expression in an emergency led to irreparable consequences; namely, 13 people died.
For the effective operation of any enterprise, one of the important factors is the degree of team cohesion. Success in achieving the set goals depends on this. Each team member must feel their value in achieving a common goal. The most proven method for building a united team is a worthy motivation to increase work efficiency, allowing you to feel the team spirit (Jones et al., 2021). Cohesion largely depends on the trust of team members in each other. It allows you to increase commitment to the team, readiness for mutual assistance, reduces conflict in general, and the manager’s costs for monitoring the implementation of tasks in particular. In the event of the Mann Gulch incident, due to disunity in the team and lack of trust, the smokejumpers did not understand the goals of the foreman and therefore died.
The basis of the misunderstanding that arose and, as a result of the conflict, was not established communication in the team. Ensuring joint activities through communication involves the development of a unified strategy for the interaction of people, which is possible only based on coordinating their positions, exchanging information, establishing mutual understanding (Jones et al., 2021). In turn, Wagner Dodge did not explain to his subordinates the meaning of his idea. Thus, he did not make contact, which led to the loss of leadership. The first important factor here is the leader’s ability to generate and disseminate ideas (Jones et al., 2021). The leader’s most important task is in the implementation of the decision-making process – independently, with the help of followers, or by delegation.
Although Dodge decided in an emergency, he did not delegate duties among his subordinates, disrupting teamwork. Team cohesion, organized teamwork, and competent distribution of duties between employees are some of the most important factors affecting the efficiency of the task (Jones et al., 2021). Teams in which the team is not cohesive, and there is no clear division of responsibilities between employees face numerous problems. The first is the inconsistency of actions, resulting in tasks being performed either less efficiently or completely incorrectly.
The distribution of responsibilities should also consider the organizational structure, the division of responsibilities between people. After that, they can unite into groups and subgroups, each of which will perform their assigned task. However, during the Mann Gulch disaster, a sudden change in wind direction instantly made the situation very complex and uncertain. In turn, the smokejumpers were forced to adapt their plan to respond to the urgent situation. As expected, the dire situation left the smokejumpers relying more on themselves than on the brigadier’s vague tactics.
The lessons learned from the Mann Gulch fire had a significant impact on the training of firefighters. An important factor in modern survival conditions in an emergency is the rapid development of technology. In 1949, the only connection to the outside world through which firefighters could call for help was broken. In addition, new ways of observing the weather can help develop a plan of action in case of expected changes in the weather. Thus, in comparison with 1949, the life and health of firefighters are more insured; however, given the danger of work, they are not 100% guaranteed.
Jones, J. M., Carter, D. R., & Contractor, N. S. (2021). A network approach to studying team functioning. The Emerald Handbook of Group and Team Communication Research, 89–108.
Reeves, T. (2019). A great day to fight fire: Mann Gulch. The Oral History Review, 37(1), 136–138.