The book describes the events and aftermath of the South Canyon Fire on Storm King Mountain on July 6, 1994 in Colorado, which took the lives of 14 firefighters. A very insightful and profound narrative of firefighters, the book gave me a good overview of the most famous...See more
The book describes the events and aftermath of the South Canyon Fire on Storm King Mountain on July 6, 1994 in Colorado, which took the lives of 14 firefighters. A very insightful and profound narrative of firefighters, the book gave me a good overview of the most famous wildland fire of the late 20th century; and the great service and sacrifice of the firefighters involved in that incident. The number of people and agencies mentioned in the beginning of the book can prove difficult to keep track of, as well as the jargon and terminology - at least for a Non-U.S person like myself - but then the book suddenly explodes into a riveting, action-packed heartbreaking true adventure story. The reconstruction of the events are both brilliant and horrific; such as when smoke jumper Eric Hipke (one of the fortunate survivors of the Fire) outruns the blowup, while his fellow firefighters get incinerated behind him. Completely being drawn into this heart-wrenching true story, I actually had the feeling that I was on the mountain myself, witnessing this tragic event, although it happened over twenty years ago - the storytelling is that good. Regarding the element of human error of this tragic event, I suppose there are two philosophical ways of looking at it: On the one hand, firefighting is inherently dangerous. Sooner or later, fatal accidents are bound to happen in such a risky profession; so from that point of view John Maclean''s excessive criticism - virtually criticizing everybody - may be regarded as somewhat overbearing. On the other hand, the general consensus seems to be that the death of the 14 firefighters could have been avoided if there would have been better inter-agency cooperation and communication. Petty rivalries between overlapping bureaucratic agencies, resources - that exist - but are not made accessible to firefighting personnel who need them badly, whimsical decisions from people in key administrative positions, the BLM''s Grand Junction District not following their own policies, a reluctance by management to support aggressive initial attack on fires, red flag warnings and weather forecast never given to firefighters themselves, management failure to take responsibility for the safety of firefighters, management failure to communicate the identity of the incident commander, lack of communication with management during rescue operations etc. Perhaps it''s because I come from a German culture, but this sounds all very chaotic to me; clearly a dysfunctional leadership structure unable of making sensible, reasonable and rational decisions, which in public safety management is essential. So from my point of view, management theory in the US bureaucratic system concerning public safety and firefighting during that time was simply not working; probably also due to an excessive culture of assertion and confrontation, everybody wanting to be the boss and nobody willing to yield. But I suppose the US bureaucracy has its own culture, and is quite capable of learning from its mistakes, which I gathered from this book has happened to a certain extent; such as improving public safety policies and firefighting concerning the dangers of taking high risks for low-value wildlands.