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Firefighters Need to Drop Weighty Tools

On the afternoon of August 4, 1949, a lightning storm started a small fire near the top of the southeast ridge of Mann Gulch, Montana, a slope forested with Douglas fir and ponderosa pine. The fire was spotted the next day; by 2:30 p.m., a C-47 transport plane had flown out of Missoula, carrying 16 smoke jumpers. Fifteen men between 17 and 33-years-old parachuted to the head of the gulch at 4:10p.m. Their radio didn’t make it. Its chute failed to open, and it crashed. They were joined on the ground by a fireguard, who had spotted the fire. Otherwise, the smoke jumpers were isolated from the outside world.

The smoke jumpers were a new organization, barely nine years old in 1949. To them, the Mann Gulch fire, covering 60 acres at the time of the jump, appeared routine. It was what they called a “ten o’clock fire,” meaning that they would have it beaten by ten o’clock in the morning of the day after they jumped.

The rest of the story is long and complex, but only three men survived. Two of them managed to run for their lives and made it to the top of a nearby ridge. The young men at Mann Gulch had been trained to never, under any circumstances, drop their tools.

One of their tools was a Pulaski, a combination axe and pick that is very useful in fighting forest fires. It’s not useful to carry it up a 76 percent slope when a grassfire is racing toward you at 610 feet per minute. And yet, the reconstructed journeys of the victims of the fire show that several carried their Pulaskis a good way up the hill as they raced for their lives.

In short, more of the men may have lived if they had been trained to drop their tools—tools that worked in normal circumstances but became unnecessary baggage in a crisis.

Possible Preaching Angle:

In the race of life, we need to drop the sins that so easily entangles us (Heb. 12:1). Such as: the love of money (1 Tim. 6:10), resentment (Eph. 4:31), envy (1 Cor. 13:4), and pride (Prov. 29:23). We are to take hold of self-denial (Matt. 16:24), what is good (1 Thess. 5:21), our progress (Phil. 3:16), and wholesome teaching (2 Tim. 1:13).

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