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Launched Aug 26 1996.


From the perspective of an Investigator
by Ludwig Benner, Jr.

FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN by John N. Maclean, William Morrow and Company, New York, NY (1999) ISBN 0-668-14477-2

275 pp, three Parts. (no index or table of contents)

Note: Best if read with Young Men and Fire.

Fire on the Mountain tells the story of a 1994 Colorado forest fire that that claimed the lives of 14 young smoke jumpers, including four women, in a forest fire on Storm King Mountain. The firefighters perished in a "blowup. The book also describes the post-fire events, including the investigation of the fire.

This fatal fire, 45 years after a similar fatal fire, is described in detail reconstructed from information from survivors, others who played a role the experience, and records. Part III describes the investigation that followed. This is especially meaty for investigators because it provides a catalogue of what can go wrong with investigations, as well as some actions that helped investigators significantly. It describes many of the obstacles faced by investigators in large mishaps, ranging from the selection and workings of the investigation team, the scoping of the investigation, team management experiences, the effects of subjective judgments exercised during the investigation, and many other investigation details. The author is clearly not dispassionate in his telling about the investigation, but he does describe relevant matters not addressed by the investigation through his narrative techniques, in some cases.

This book, like Young Men and Fire, describes the behavior and decision issues which investigators need to deal with in investigations. It also gets into the management and funding role of organizations and managers in providing information and other resources over the 6 days of the fire, effects of jurisdictional confusion and conflicts, and other management-related matters - and their impact on the investigation. A lot of lessons for investigators! Thus, in addition to the description of the challenges, behavior and decisions involved in forest fire firefighting, the reader can get clear lessons about pitfalls and traps in major investigations.

One major lesson the book brought home for me (again) was the need for investigation process research to examine and report on role of the selection of investigation report specifications in fueling controversy for investigators, something the Rand report for the NTSB only addresses obliquely.

Bottom line for investigators: worth reading if you are interested in investigation management issues.

LB January 25, 2000