On August 5, 1949, a team of 15 smokejumpers parachuted into the Mann Gulch near the Missouri River in Montana to fight a fire that had started the previous day. At first appraisal, fighting the fire seemed a simple task. But thus began one of the worst disasters in the modern history of wildfire suppression in which all but two of the team members lost their lives.
Immortalized in Norman Maclean’s book Young Men and Fire[i], in the folk song Cold Missouri Waters by James Keelaghan and in famed organizational scholar Karl Weick’s scholarly analysis[ii], the incident is a tragic-yet-fascinating account of a team attempting to sense and respond to a rapidly evolving environment. It’s a story of improvisation, counter-intuitive action and collapsed team structures.
According to Maclean’s account, the teamRead More