Arduous – Walking segments include trail and non-trail portions. Non-trail portions are steep, very rocky (bowling ball size rocks), and include a fair amount of side hill walking. Elevation ranges from 3550 ft. at the mouth of Mann Gulch to 4800 ft. at the top of the ridge between Mann Gulch and Rescue Gulch. From the mouth of Mann Gulch to the last stand is approximately 2 miles one way.
Moderate/Difficult – Adjacent to Interstate 15, north of Helena, Montana. Helena has a good amount of overnight accommodations. Because of the time involved to do the staff ride Helena is a good place to start and end the day. Snow and weather allows access from around mid-April to the end of October. Access to the site is typically by boat on the Missouri River arranged through the Gates of the Mountains, Inc. Gates of the Mountains runs boats daily in June, July, and August, but those tours do not generally stop at the mouth of Mann Gulch, so advance arrangements must be made. Gates of the Mountains, Inc. runs boats on a more limited schedule in September. Special arrangements can be made outside of those months. Mann Gulch can also be accessed from Willow Creek starting off on trail #260 or the boat ramp at Meriwether Gulch. Both of these access points require additional time to access Mann Gulch and would require significant planning on how to conduct the Staff Ride. Plans to access through Willow Creek Trail should be coordinated with Helena NF. This route is not always assured available.
Possible Hazards and Risks
Rocky and difficult terrain and footing
Use caution and wear appropriate footwear
Exposure to sun and possible high temperatures
Use sunblock , wear a hat, suitable clothing
Sunglasses, drinking water
Possible rain, snow, low temperatures
Transportation and work in and around moving vehicles
Watch footing and avoid reaching under rocks and brush
Ticks (mostly April – June)
Check your entire body for ticks as soon as you can after the staff ride
Wear hardhats and visually assess tree hazards; watch for hikers above, yell to alert if you kick rocks loose
Transportation by boat shuttle to Mann Gulch
Wear personal flotation device and follow instructions from boat crew
Poor radio and cell phone communications
You have to be on the ridge top to reach repeaters and get cell service
Consider and plan for your needs for medical support in this remote location.
Letter to Facilitators from the Mann Gulch Staff Ride Development Team:
Dear Mann Gulch Staff Ride Facilitators;
Those of you who have lead or participated in Staff Rides before know what a great learning experience lays ahead, and we encourage all of you – veterans and newcomers alike - to prepare by opening your minds and allowing yourselves as much as possible to put your feet in the boots of the Mann Gulch fire fighters and managers on August 5th, 1949. This letter will provide you some information for better understanding how we have organized the following Facilitator Instruction Material, and also include some of our own lessons learned for making this Mann Gulch Staff Ride work well.
We have attempted to provide support and flexibility in the materials provided here. By all means, make it your own. You should find a great deal of support in the Facilitators Support and Maps Tabs of the Mann Gulch Staff Ride Website. We have included several photos that might benefit participants at each stand. We recommend printing and laminating TDG plans and supporting documents, photos and maps to include in a notebook with your Facilitator Instructional Materials. If you are planning your Staff Ride for a large group of people, we have found the Incident Command System to be a helpful organizing tool. The sample Incident Action Plan found in the Facilitator Support Tab may be a helpful tool as well. If using the IAP, please remember to update/validate that the important information is current.
Make sure you review the Wildland Fire Staff Ride Guide and remember that it is only a Staff Ride if it has these three elements: Preliminary Study, Field Study, and Integration. We also suggest that during your Field Study portion you include these three components at each stand:
1.) Orient the Ground: Point out the terrain features important to the historical events at that stand. Make sure to explain what would have looked different during the historical event than it does now.
2.) Present the Background Information: What was planned, what really happened and any other issues significant to your objectives. One way to have participants themselves present some of this information is to have them do the “Person of Interest” (POI) assignment described below. (See POI sample letter in Facilitator Support Tab)
3.) Analyze: What can we learn from this historical event to make ourselves better firefighters and managers today? This analysis can be achieved through Tactical Decision Games, through pre-planned Discussion Questions, or simply by letting the group talk about what they are learning after each stand.
Part of our instructions includes a “Person of Interest” (POI) assignment for participants to prepare for while doing their Preliminary Study. We assign each participant a POI who seems like someone they might relate to. For instance, we might ask a current Ranger or FMO participant to study Ranger Jansson; a crew leader to focus on Dodge or Hellman; or a crew member to learn about one of the Mann Gulch smokejumpers - maybe someone who grew up in the same part of the country, is the same age, or has something else in common with them.
We ask participants to learn everything they can about who that person was and what his life was like. Lots of these details can be found under the Information Sources Tab on the website. Personal profiles were compiled for Mann Gulch participants in a document developed by Helena High School students -- High School X-CEL Class Mann Gulch Remembered, 50th Anniversary. This PDF document can be found as well under the Information Sources Tab on the Mann Gulch Staff Ride website.
After studying the assigned Person of Interest (POI), Staff Ride participants are asked to come prepared to tell that person’s story, as best they can, to their Staff Ride group while we stand on the terrain where the historic fire occurred. This assignment has helped to make the Mann Gulch Staff Ride a personal enough experience for our participants that the lessons learned stay with them as they make their own fire line decisions.
As you and your students study the Preliminary materials, you will notice that the survivors’ testimonies and Mann Gulch’s various authors sometimes contradict each other. It is not the goal of a Staff Ride to present a “united front,” or any kind of a “party line.” The interesting complexities and truths lie somewhere among all the story lines. We have striven to be as accurate as possible in our Staff Ride materials, but there are some things that we can never know for sure. As a facilitator, be careful not to let the group get too sidetracked in trying to figure out those unknowns; keep in mind that you are trying to help folks get better at fighting their next fire, not re-fighting the old one.
One technique that will help your participants better understand what happened at Mann Gulch on August 5th, 1949 is to not allow yourself as facilitators, or your Staff Ride participants, to mention anything that happened ahead of the unfolding narrative at each stand. Design your Staff Ride to move like a story, complete with the tension of not knowing what lies around the next corner. If they did their pre-reading they will know many things already about the outcome, but ask them to suspend that knowledge until the Integration. I’ve seen some good humor used by facilitators to cut forward speculation off, and there is no need to be subtle about it! If they goof (and we all do), say something like, “Hey, that’s a good questions to save for the Integration.”
You may also have to cut discussions off at each stand simply because at the end of the day you will have to catch a boat out of Mann Gulch at a certain time. So, make sure as you plan that you divide the time among the stands in a thoughtful way. In our experience Stand 1 is long on Background Information as it’s important to do a good job of setting the stage, and then the amount of time you spend at each following stand can decrease, just as the number of options remaining to the historic firefighters decreased as the day wore on. Stands 5 and 6 will probably need to be longer again, as they address the whole rescue operation and the aftermath of the Mann Gulch Fire.
If you are managing several groups at once, you may find it necessary logistically, to provide fill-in material for occasions when one group has to wait for another to clear an area before you can move to the next stand. “Person of Interest” stories can help make this time productive.
It is your job as facilitators to keep track of your Staff Ride objectives, keep participants moving both physically and mentally, and don’t let the same one or two individuals monopolize the conversations. Otherwise, let those discussions percolate how they will, and don’t try to draw participants towards any grand conclusions or consensus; we want people’s minds to be clicking and/or spinning, and we are not troubled if they have more questions at the end of the day than they did at the beginning.
There needs to be space for disagreement and a whole range of emotion (anger, sadness, etc.). We want participants to frankly discuss where possible mistakes were made, but to remain respectful of the human beings who may have made those mistakes. Suspension of disbelief is important, and we need to remember that they did the best they could with the information and awareness they had that day. If we can get the participants to keep their minds open, and take the events of August 5th, 1949 one hour and minute at a time, you might be surprised by how many of their decisions seem rational to you, given what those firefighters knew at the time.
It is good for participants to get a little sweaty and winded as they traverse this historic route; we all tend to think sharper with a bit of exertion. But don’t let them get moving so fast that they get injured. The terrain is rough and the goal is not to re-run the same race that Sallee and Rumsey did.
Remember, we will be walking on ground where people died and that many consider sacred. It is also a governed as Wilderness Area and appropriate considerations should be taken as such. Please refrain from removing artifacts or damaging natural areas. Photographs should be taken in a professional manner and kept to a reasonable number. Please be sensitive in words and action to the people and places that are included in the Staff Ride, and come prepared to engage honestly in discussions designed for us to continue learning to do our jobs better, and to keep our people alive on future fire grounds.
Mann Gulch Staff Ride Development Crew
Summary of Common Considerations
& Helpful Recommendations
Develop a working copy of the support materials, including this Facilitators Guide. From the Mann Gulch Staff Ride Website, print out and become familiar with the materials found in the Facilitators Support and the Map tabs. (A three ring binder works well for this). Often referenced in the staff ride will be the following important support materials:
Facilitators Reference Guide
Supporting Stand Photos
IAP, JHA, Medical and Communications Plans (critical to update)
Consider the time you have to conduct the staff ride, your audience, and which elements will deserve the most attention for the desired impact. Stand 1 provides the foundation, and the TDG’s, the POI stories, Stands 5 and 6 can be very powerful. Time allowed to visit the markers, following Stand 5 should be provided, as it is frequently the most important element that participants site as connecting the material with the costs. If time is short, consider combining Stands 5 and 6 at the Ridge top.
Rehearse around a sand table or terrain model with your facilitative team. Prior to the staff ride, practice the sequence of events, shoot holes in your delivery and look for areas where confusion is likely, or where things may go wrong.
Read, adjust and practice the TDG’s and understand where the Person of Interest POI assignments fit into the procedures.
Coordinate with critical supporting partners, such as the Helena NF staff and/or the Gates of the Mountains Resort personnel. Depending on the formal nature of the staff ride, and if possible, visit the site with the facilitative team prior to conducting the staff ride.
Finally… solicit feedback from folks that have presented this staff ride before, and seek lessons learned. Make it your own, but feel free to contact personnel from the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program for further information, or to assist with any questions you may have, or to find further contacts.
Please note: Use of bullets and other formatting devices in this Facilitators Reference Guide to aid in navigation in the document.
STATEGIC DISCUSSION POINTS
Stand 1 – Background & Overview Stand 1 gives an overview of firefighting culture, smokejumping, fuels and weather in August of 1949. This discussion can be held at the Gates of the Mountains boat ramp, but is better done at the mouth of Mann Gulch after jumping off the boat. The clearing near the mouth of Mann Gulch also offers a good place to logistically rally and to place medical equipment (trauma kit) if you have it. The facilitator(s) would do well to consider which location will facilitate the timing of their staff ride.
Collection of Stand Support Photos – Stand 1
TDG #1 handouts for each participant (Handed out following Stand 1 discussion, prior to Stand 2)
The Gates of the Mountains boat launch is approximately 40 minutes from Helena – north on Interstate 15 about 17 miles, take exit 209 for Gates of the Mountains. Turn right at the bottom of the off-ramp for Gates of the Mountains Rd., travel 2.7 miles to Gates of the Mountains Marina.
The boat ride is about 15 minutes downriver. From where you get off the boat, hike up-canyon along an unimproved trail about 100 yards to an opening large enough to hold the group. Stand 1 can be delivered here, if it wasn’t done earlier. (Preferred)
Stand 1WGS84 Datum GPS Coordinates: N 46*52.716’ W 111*54.797’ Terrain Orientation
Gates of the Mountains Wild Area
If at the mouth of Mann Gulch:
10 AM policy – Established by the Forest Service in 1936, this policy stipulated that a fire was to be contained and controlled by 10 AM on the day following the report of a fire, or, failing that goal, controlled by 10 AM the next day, and so on. Often large numbers of resources were immediately mobilized to achieve this goal. Having fires that remained out of control for an extended period of time could reflect poorly on a District Ranger or could even result in a Ranger being fired. A prerequisite to becoming a District Ranger at the time was to have been previously a Fire Control Officer (FCO). (Note: The FCO position evolved into the present day Fire Management Officer (FMO) position.)
Fire culture – The culture of firefighters at the time stressed unquestioning compliance with superior’s orders; it was “shut up and get to work”. A good number of the firefighters were veterans of WWII and brought much in the way of attitudes and culture from their military experience.
Values at risk – Gates of the Mountains area had just been declared a “Wild Area” the year before. Even with that declaration wildland fire use or less than a full suppression strategy was not an option at the time. Meriwether campground was a very popular destination for recreationists at that time with as many as 6000 people visiting per year.
Smokejumper program/culture – At 10 years old the smokejumpers were regarded as a valuable firefighting resource in this era of the 10 AM Policy; however, the program was still considered somewhat experimental. Smokejumpers often were the best resource to staff and gain control of fires in remote areas because they could do so more quickly than others. They were also valued because they were capable, fit, and self-sufficient. Even though the smokejumpers were valued, they generally had much less fire experience than they do now. Most spent a year or two jumping and then went on to other jobs.
Training – In 1949 10/18/LCES did not exist – Firefighters knew that the tail of a fire was a safer location than the head. They also were taught to work close to fire and get into the black if threatened. Safety training for blow-up fire situations was minimal at this time. If endangered by a running fire, smokejumper trainers suggested getting to a ridge or break in fuels and topography, moving along the flank of the fire to safety, or trying to cut through the fire front into a burned area. Finally, and most emphatically, “new man training” for rookie jumpers stressed following the orders of the foreman in charge.
Smokejumpers on board – Nine of the smokejumpers on the airplane headed for Mann Gulch were rookies. For most it was their first fire jump. Four were second season jumpers. Most of the rookies had worked for the Forest Service for only two previous seasons, but not always in primary firefighting jobs. Twelve of the men were veterans from the armed services.
Foreman Wagner “Wag” Dodge – Wag Dodge had been a smokejumper for eight seasons with one previous season working for the Forest Service. He was a quiet individual, not very communicative or expressive, but very handy. When not fighting fire he was most often working around the smokejumper base keeping the facilities and equipment repaired and maintained. None of the rookies had met Wag before.
Squadleader William “Bill” Hellman – Bill had been a smokejumper for four seasons with one previous season working for the Forest Service. He was a sociable individual and was very involved with rookie training.
Seasonal Weather – The 1948 season was cool, wet and had very few fires. 1949 was relatively wet in the late winter and early spring, and then turned to a dry late spring and early summer. The wet early period had resulted in abundant grass growth, which had cured in the hot, dry weather.
Smokejumper interaction – During rookie training rookies were split into 4-man squads and they really only grew to know the other rookies in their squad and their squadleader. Because the fire danger was low in the early season the smokejumper rookies were sent to outlying districts in pairs or as individuals after completing training. This meant that there was little interaction after training with other rookies or the experienced smokejumpers at the base.
Ignition - On August 4th a lightning storm moved though western Montana and on to the east side of the continental divide, starting numerous fires. The Missoula Smokejumper Base began jumping those fires the afternoon of August 4th and was nearly jumped out by mid-day on the 5th. The base did manage to cobble together a load to fill the request to the Helena National Forest however. One individual, Eldon Diettert, was celebrating his 19th birthday that day and was called away from his birthday lunch at home with his family.
District Ranger Robert Jansson was flying detection on the Helena National Forest and ordering resources to fight the fires he and the lookouts were discovering. Of the fires detected on his district he was most concerned about the York Fire which was threatening ranch homes, livestock, about 10 million board feet of timber, and the tremendous scenic and recreation values in Trout Creek Canyon. He was the most experienced person in fire on the forest.
Meriwether Guard Harrison had been a smokejumper the previous season, and then took this guard job because his mother thought that smokejumping was too dangerous. He had already been working the fire and had taken a couple trips over the steep Meriwether ridge before the smokejumpers arrived.
Previous to the Mann Gulch Fire there had been no smokejumpers killed by fire. Between 1939 and 1949 35 people had been killed in fast moving grass fires east of the divide.
The smokejumpers were largely unfamiliar with large fires and with fire behavior east of the divide.
Person of interest is optional at this stand. If done the POI could be District Ranger Robert Jansson (if not doing Stand 6), Meriwether Guard Harrison, Smokejumper Spotter Earl Cooley, any of the rookie smokejumpers excluding Sallee and Rumsey (who are better saved for the end).
Strategic Discussion Points Recurring Questions
In the historical situation what conditions at this point were in the firefighter’s control and what conditions were outside their control?
Given the circumstances at the time, were their actions reasonable? Why or why not?
Today, given current technology and standard operating principles and procedures, how might you handle the very same situation?
What are some of the factors influencing the smokejumpers decision to jump and initial attack this fire that you think contributed to a higher potential for a bad outcome to take place?
What are some of the factors that influence the decision to initial attack fire in this day and age that could contribute to a higher potential for a bad outcome?
What are some things that can be done to mitigate those factors and thus lower the potential for them to contribute to a bad outcome?
What are some of the leadership and crew cohesion challenges faced by the smokejumpers on board the C-47 headed for Mann Gulch?
What are some leadership and/or crew cohesion challenges you have faced?
Can you describe any specific bad consequences that occurred because of these leadership and/or crew cohesion challenges? Alternately, can you describe what you or your crew did to resolve these leadership and/or crew cohesion challenges?
This would be a good time to hand out copies of TDG #1 (next page) to participants, if you are going to use it. If you are doing Stand 6, then it would be best to address Jansson there, on the way back down from the ridge top. Stand 6 is performed at the Harry T. Gisborne Memorial site. You will pass it enroute to Stand 2.
Mann Gulch Fire Staff Ride Tactical Decision Game #1 Location
TDG to be handed out at the end of Stand 1 and done at Stand 2, so that participants have some time to think about this one enroute.
The time is the present, and 5PM on a hot August day. Like Harrison, you were the first to arrive on the fire and it is burning on your district ground. You will be the IC, at least to start with. At this point you have scouted the fire and surrounding area, put in a bit of scratch line, and been taking periodic weather readings. The fire is behaving as it did historically, approximately 60 acres, with flames that make it impossible to get closer than 100 feet from the burning edge. However, you have modern tools and protocols at your disposal. A ten-person crew meets you, where we stand. They have just come down from a helicopter shuttle. This is the first time you’ve been able to establish communication with the crew, and get your radio channels right, so you take care of that first.
Now you have two minutes to write down the most important things you think about the current situation and to prepare a briefing for the crew. No talking, please.
Stand 2 – Briefing Overlook Support Material
Collection of Stand Support Photos – Stand 2
TDG #1 handout
Incident Response Pocket Guide
Photo of spot fire below, cutting access to river – Facilitator Support tab
Stand 2 WGS84 Datum GPS Coordinates: N 46*53.149’ W 111*53.703’
From the mouth of Mann Gulch hike about one mile up canyon on the trail. Along the way, you pass Stand 1A/5A – Jansson’s Turnaround Spot (optional Stand located near Gisborne’s memorial plaque). Follow the trail to the next memorial markers, as it leaves the drainage bottom to the left (north). Stand 2 takes place on an open grass bench around the top of the lower third of the slope (south aspect).
NOTE: This stand is not located at a historically important location; rather it is a good vantage point to see a number of important spots.
General orientation of Mann Gulch (Note the orientation of the canyon: alignment with prevailing winds, the effect of solar heating on different aspects as the day progresses, box canyon effect.)
The Jump Spot (up canyon, on a flatter area below ridge)
Cargo Spot (nearer to drainage and Stand 1 than to Jump Spot)
The Fire Location (across drainage to the south, on top of the ridge dividing Mann Gulch and Meriwether Canyon)
The location where Dodge and Harrison rejoined the crew (across the drainage, approximately 100 yards up the slope).
Stand 2 – Background Information
The vegetation of Mann gulch has changed significantly between 1949 and now, mostly as the result of the fires of 1949 and 2007. The relative locations of timber and grass during the 1949 fire must be considered to properly understand the actions of the firefighters that day. There was significantly more timber along the south aspect in 1949 than is visible now, arranged in thick stringers. These fuels are shown well in the historical photos in the gallery. The grass in the gulch was affected by a wet season in 1948 and early 1949, and possibly by the recent designation as a wild area with limited grazing.
The jump ship arrived over the fire around 3:10 PM. While in the aircraft the Spotter and Foreman conducted a recon of the fire. At this point it was judged to be about 60 acres. It had burned to the top of the ridge between Mann and Meriwether Gulches, with considerable backing down slope into Mann Gulch. The winds were northeast, carrying the fire along the ridge top. From his airplane vantage point, Spotter Earl Cooley stated that they assessed the fire as “not appearing dangerous..... confined with no indications of spotting or crowning;” and that it’s “rate of spread would reduce throughout the evening” (Dodge); and “would be mostly mop-up work'” (Rumsey).
They picked a jump spot across the gulch ½ mile away up canyon and 500 feet lower in elevation than the fire. Wind streamers indicated the wind was about 10 mph straight up canyon. The air had been turbulent all the way from Missoula and continued to be during smokejumping operations, causing several jumpers to become airsick. The turbulence made for hard landings for some of the jumpers. Dodge was banged up and needed minor medical attention at the jump spot. The cargo landed scattered. The parachute on the crew’s radio failed to deploy and the radio was destroyed. The jump and cargo operations were completed by 4:10 PM, and the airplane returned to Missoula.
This was the first fire jump for several of the smokejumpers. As with today’s rookies, they may have been more focused on their first operational jump than on the fire’s behavior.
Around 5:00 PM, after gathering the cargo, Dodge went across the gulch for a meeting with Harrison, who had yelled down to the crew. Dodge instructed Hellman to follow him with the crew after they had gotten a quick bite to eat. They were to bring food, water, and tools. Dodge and Harrison met at a point near the head of the fire, upslope from the drainage bottom on the south side of the gulch. The fuels on this north aspect between the men and the fire were dense with timber reproduction.
When Hellman brought the crew across to join them, Dodge and Harrison came down and met the crew at a point about 100 yards up from the bottom. Dodge assessed the situation on this flank near the head as unsafe. Around 5:20 PM he instructed Hellman to take the crew back north across the drainage to this Stand’s location, and then to go down the gulch towards the Missouri River on the north side of the canyon. Dodge and Harrison continued back to the cargo spot to get food and water.
Ranger Jansson estimated the winds down at the mouth of Mann Gulch to be between 20 and 30 mph around 5:00 PM.
Take with you selected photos from the Mann Gulch Facilitators Stand Support Photos – Stand 2, to assist in representing historical fuel conditions and fire behavior.
Suggested Persons of Interest: James Harrison, and perhaps one of the smokejumper rookies.
TDG #1: You handed this out for review following Stand 1, enroute to this stand.
PERFORM TDG #1: After participants have taken their two minutes to write some notes and think, ask a few of them to brief the assembled Staff Ride group as if they were a fire crew. You might have a participant with less fire experience go first, and then have someone with more experience try it. Then take some time to analyze what constitutes an effective briefing.
Make sure, prior to completing elements here at Stand 2 Location, and moving toward Stand 3, that you understand how TDG #2 will work… Particularly with POI’s Hellman, Harrison and Dodge. (See Facilitators Suggestions following Strategic Discussion Points.)
Stand 2 Strategic Discussion Points In the historical situation what conditions at this point were in the firefighter’s control and what conditions were outside their control?
Given the circumstances at the time, were their actions reasonable? Why or why not?
Today, given current technology and standard operating principles and procedures, how might you handle the very same situation?
What assumptions were made in the initial size up and assessments?
How is situational awareness important in ensuring perceptions are in line with reality?
What other things may be competing for the attention of the men at this point? (first fire jump, not knowing the other crewmembers well, etc.)
What are the elements of effective briefings?
What is Leaders Intent, and does a leader communicate changing intent if dictated by changing conditions?
Tactical Decision Making
How would you read the orientation of the terrain in Mann Gulch? What affects would you expect the terrain and prevailing weather to have on fire behavior?
What are the effects of resource policy on firefighting today (consider grazing, urban interface, etc.)
Facilitator Suggestions for doing after Tactical Decision Game #1, and/or Stand 2 Discussion Questions
After completing TDG #1, the facilitator should set the tone for TDG #2 (Next Page) and the group’s transition to Stand 3. We suggest asking participants to suspend their knowledge of how the day’s events unfold and to concentrate on searching their hearts and minds for everything they have been able to uncover about the Person of Interest (POI) that they were assigned for the Staff Ride. Urge them to consider the kinds of things that their particular POI may have been thinking or doing at this point, and as the group moves across the slope, to imagine as best they can that they are walking in the boots of the person they have studied.
Be creative here and adjust as necessary to include such options as having select individual’s role play to simulate certain challenges or situations that help illuminate your Staff Ride objectives.
Mann Gulch Fire Staff Ride Tactical Decision Game #2 Facilitator Suggestions No participant handout for this TDG
The route between Stand 2 and Stand 3, with the main activity occurring at a point just prior to Stand 3 and immediately upon arrival at Stand 3.
Split-Second Decision Making, Leadership, and Communication