Facilitators reference guide

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For Optional TDG #3 (recommended for crew level participants)
Ask somebody to play the part of the Squad Leader. Have them respond to the IC over the radio. At this point you, the facilitator, can play the part of the IC on the other end of the radio. It turns out that the governor is standing right next to the IC at the Helena High School Command Post, increasing the pressure that the IC already feels about this. If the Squad Leader demands that the bodies are left as they lay for a good investigation to be done, or for any other reason, the IC can repeat how important it is to the governor that they be brought down. But if the Squad Leader persists, and especially if he/she has a good argument, then both the IC and the governor decide to go with the wishes of the Squad Leader, so that as much as possible can be learned. Depending on how the scenario goes, you might ask one or two more participants to share what they think they would want to do in such a situation.
For Optional TDG #4 (recommended for line officer or fire managers)
Ask two or three people to share their ideas. This TDG should push participants to think about what the best human response to the situation would be. There is no one right answer, but there sure could be some wrong answers. For this TDG the goal is a good discussion about the issues raised. It is important that someone broaches the topic of who will notify the next of kin and how will they go about doing it. If none of the responders brings that up in their response, put one of them on the spot. Pretend to be their supervisor and ask them “Will you notify the next of kin?” Then have them tell you how they will do it and what will they say.

Mann Gulch Fire Staff Ride
Tactical Decision Game #3


To be done at Stand 5.

Major Themes

Moral Courage, Rapid Decision Making, Leadership

You are an experienced Squad Leader, in modern times, and as far as you know half of your crew has been working a fire in Mann Gulch since this afternoon. Thinking it would be a quick mop-up job, and knowing that there would be other initial attack needs in the area, the IC had thought half the crew would be enough. But when the fire began to get active in the early evening the IC ordered the rest of your crew up from Helena. You and your half crew traveled by bus and boat to come help fight the fire.
By the time you arrived at the mouth of Mann Gulch it was 2AM, August 6th, and you are told that the fire “blew up.” Your mission has been changed from fighting the fire to helping to rescue survivors. After searching into the dawn, you realized that the few survivors have already been helped to the river and all you are left with is dead bodies.
Now it is 6AM and the IC calls you over the radio:

“I need you to use your stretchers to start moving remains down to the boat dock immediately. Break. One of those missing firefighters has parents who live in Helena and have been alerted. They want their son’s body brought down immediately, something to do with their religion. Break. The Governor and the District Ranger want those bodies off the ridge as soon as possible.”

You are exhausted, already nearly puked once at the site of a burned body of an unrecognizable co-worker, and want badly to do the right thing here.
You tell the IC: “Standby.”
You have two minutes before you have to call the IC back with a response. Write down what your main thoughts are, what you intend to tell the IC, and what you intend to tell your crew.

Mann Gulch Fire Staff Ride
Tactical Decision Game #4
Major Themes

Moral Courage, Rapid Decision Making, Leadership

It is 2AM August 6th, modern times. You are a unit Duty Officer/Line Officer (or as appropriate for participant group). The IC of a fire on your unit calls you from their satellite phone to tell you that twelve firefighters have died on your unit, in similar circumstances as those we’ve been studying in Mann Gulch.
Take two minutes to write down some thoughts about how you would like to proceed from here. Be prepared to discuss your ideas with the group.
Does your unit have a plan in place for circumstances like this?
What do you understand the actual official and non-official roles for you to be under a circumstance like this involving your personnel, or on your home unit?

What do you know about the concepts of Critical Incident Stress Debriefings and/or Critical Incident Stress Management?

Stand 5 Strategic Discussion Points
Recurring Questions

In the historical situation what conditions at this point were in their control and what conditions were outside their control? Given the circumstances at the time, were their actions reasonable?

Today, how might you handle the same situation?
Risk Assessment

Why were they fighting this fire? (Purpose? Need? Cultural pressure?)

Would we fight it for the same reasons today?

How do we change our work culture, or wider national culture, to be smarter about balancing decisions about what’s at risk and is it worth risking lives? Is our training adequately addressing these questions?

The Rescue

How well do you think the rescue mission for Hellman and Sylvia was handled? What did they do well and where did they have problems? What can we learn from this for today’s firefighters?

How well do you think the body retrieval mission was handled? What did they do well and where did they have problems? What can we learn from this for today’s firefighters?
Fire Investigations

Are we learning the lessons that we need to from how we currently conduct our fire investigations? What might be the best way to learn from fatality or “near miss” incidents?

Is our culture changing in terms of the human factors findings that we have begun to talk about in the last few years?

How did the fire organization change as a result of the Mann Gulch Fire and report findings?

How does our current fire organization value our history? Is it important to teach about our past and are we doing it?
Moral Courage and Leadership

What kind of skills does a situation like this Mann Gulch rescue mission and aftermath call upon from a leader? How and where do we or should we learn such skills? Do we address instances like this, which demand a kind of moral courage, in our current leadership training? How could we do better?

Do you think that the bureaucratic response to this situation would be different from the best response for human beings?

Who made the phone calls to the next of kin for those who died in Mann Gulch? Is there anything we can learn from how this was done?

Are there any heroes in the Mann Gulch fire story? What do you think makes a hero? How do our media affect our perception of heroes? Do you know of any firefighters or leader that you think of as heroes today?
Facilitator Suggestions
A reminder… After finishing your discussion at Stand 5, we recommend giving Staff Ride participants some quiet time on their own to pay tribute to the markers for those who died. Many will want to explore the rock slide where Sallee and Rumsey survived at the top of Rescue Gulch.

If you did the Person of Interest assignment, encourage participants to visit the marker for the person they studied. It is very important to set a time to meet back at the mouth of Mann Gulch - or at Stand 6, if you are doing it - depending on when you need to catch the boat. It is worthwhile.

Give participants with generally good fitness at least forty-five minutes for the hike to the mouth of the gulch.

Stand 6 – Ranger Jansson’s Turnaround
Facilitator Suggestions
This stand is designed to be done at the Harry T. Gisborne Memorial, as you are walking back out of Mann Gulch. This stand is particularly pertinent if the Staff Ride includes fire managers. Stands 5 and 6 can be very involved emotionally, and thus can be powerful, especially if combined with the visiting of markers in between.

If you feel that you may not have the time, you may choose to combine Stands 5 and 6 together at the ridge top, prior to releasing folks to visit markers on the way back down.

Support Material

  • Collection of Stand Support Photos – Stand 6

  • Maps

  • Letter from Jansson to Wag Dodge – Facilitators Support tab


Stand 6: WGS84 Datum GPS Coordinates: N 46*52.794’ W 111*54.239’

As you are hiking down toward the mouth of Mann Gulch, the Harry T. Gisborne Memorial site should be found approximately 0.5 miles up from the boat launch. You should’ve passed this site going from Stand 1 to Stand 2. This is an undeveloped trail in the bottom of the gulch.

Terrain Orientation

Bottom of Mann Gulch

Ridge Top Fire Origin (approximately 0.4 miles southeast from here)

Spot Fires (that Jansson could see in the bottom and on the north side of Mann Gulch)

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Facilitator Suggestions
Suggested Persons of Interest: Robert (Bob) Jansson, Canyon Ferry District Ranger and possibly Harry T. Gisborne. (See link to Gisborne information on Travel Directions, Facilitator Support tab)
Stand 6 – Background Information

  • Ranger Jansson began working at the Canyon Ferry Ranger District in 1941, and in the spring of 1945 was appointed Ranger.

  • Jansson preformed multiple fire duties during August 4th and 5th. On the 4th the district began to pick up new fire starts at 4:00 PM. Jansson spent the evening mobilizing firefighters, doing lookout duties and then took over dispatching responsibilities at 5:15 PM, including ordering food and other logistical duties as needed. He shut down dispatch at 11:20 PM. Jansson was back at 7:00 AM checking on more fires and dispatching firefighters. He went on an aerial detection flight at 10:45 AM.

  • It was at this point that Ranger Jansson turned around after walking up Mann Gulch to scout the fire and ascertain if in fact jumpers had made a jump into Mann Gulch. He started his walk up Mann Gulch at 5:02 PM. He had walked about 40 chains when he noticed the fire had crossed the bottom of Mann Gulch in two places, one about two acres and the other five acres. This is the point where Jansson thought he heard voices up the gulch. He proceeded another 100 yards to investigate. He didn’t hear them again and the fire was growing hotter. Somewhere between 5:18 and 5:20 PM he turned around to get out of there, and had to run through some flames. He had just cleared the flames when he passed out. When he revived consciousness the fire was only a few feet away and backing towards him. At about 5:45 PM he headed back to Meriwether in the boat.

  • Jannson still did not know if the smokejumpers had ever jumped. He hoped that if they had jumped the smokejumpers would take care of themselves and were probably in drainage to the north of Mann Gulch.

  • Finally at 8:30 PM Missoula was contacted and it was confirmed that a jump had occurred earlier in the day. Jansson still did not know where exactly they had jumped. At 9:20 PM Dodge made contact with Jansson in the Meriwether camp and confirmed the jump and location. This was the first time Jansson learned that an accident had happened.

  • Jansson lead the rescue effort through Sunday afternoon the 7th. The first body he found was his employee, Jim Harrison. Then he found eight of the others.

  • In November of 1949 Ranger Jansson took Fire Researcher Harry Gisborne into Mann Gulch to do research on the fire behavior during the blow up of Mann Gulch. Jansson and Gisborne spent the day in and around Mann Gulch. On the walk back to their vehicle Gisborne collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack.

  • In the spring of 1950 Jansson transferred to the Priest Lake Ranger District. Bob Jansson passed away November of 1965, after an eleven year battle with polycystic kidney disease, a rare condition that is usually triggered by stress.

Stand 6 Strategic Discussion Points
Recurring Questions

  • In the historical situation what conditions at this point were in Jansson’s control and what conditions were outside his control?

  • Given the circumstances at the time, were his actions reasonable? Why or why not?

  • Today, how might a ranger or FMO handle the same situation?

  • What would it be like to have an employee die while in your control?

  • How should a Ranger handle a fatality fire on his/her unit?

  • What might you do to handle the kinds of stress that Jansson must have experienced?


How did the events of the Mann Gulch Fire affect those who survived?

What methods do we utilize today to help survivors of such incidents heal? What could we do better?

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