Mayday Communications

Barry Furey focuses on the communications aspects of managing "Mayday!" emergencies.


Perhaps there is no more dreaded radio transmission than that of a firefighter Mayday. After all, this is official confirmation that one of our own is in trouble. While much has been written and analyzed concerning the steps to be taken on the fireground when a Mayday is declared, this article...


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While Mayday communications can be complex, the responsibility of communications can be summed up by the word "VALIDATE":

V Verify

A Acknowledge

L Listen

I Inform

D Divert

A Account

T Terminate

E Evaluate

V - Verify that a Mayday has been transmitted and confirm the unit number or personnel identification and location. Keep in mind that a Mayday may be transmitted in a number of ways; by voice over radio by those directly involved, by emergency button over radio, or by other firefighters who witness an incident, hear a personal alert safety system (PASS) emergency alarm or call for help, or who otherwise have knowledge that trouble exists.

Attempt to obtain the most accurate location possible. Make direct contact with the originator of the Mayday, if you can. For other than voice reports, confirm that the emergency device activation was not accidental. In all cases, assume that the Mayday is genuine until you have been otherwise advised by the originator. Get as much information as you can concerning their current conditions. How many firefighters are involved? Who are they? Are they trapped? Lost? Injured? Out of air? All of this may be helpful to the rapid intervention team.

A - Acknowledge and announce the Mayday information on all appropriate channels. Make sure that everyone who needs to know is advised and that they confirm receipt of the correct information.

L - Listen for additional calls for help or pertinent transmissions. If initial contact cannot be established, then continue to check at regular intervals. Query the firefighters calling the Mayday to answer by microphone click if they cannot speak, and to activate their PASS devices and/or flashlights if they can do so. Your role is to help other units find the downed firefighters as quickly as possible.

I - Inform all agencies and personnel required to respond. Make the notifications specified under policy. Make sure that you know ahead of time what will be expected. Typically, additional companies and emergency medical resources will be called to the scene and chief officers and municipal officials briefed. Where an agency has but one frequency on which to both signal and communicate, as many emergency notifications as possible should be made by alternate means. While there is no singular recommendation that fits every scenario, it must be remembered that any traffic on this sole channel will compete and potentially interfere with communications to and from the downed firefighters.

D - Divert all non-essential radio traffic to other channels, if available. Keep the air clear for those directly involved in the emergency. While the wholesale switching of an entire in-progress operation is always difficult and seldom recommended since someone may get "lost in the shuffle," this is one time when this should be considered. The channel on which the Mayday was transmitted should be kept clear for communicating with those in need. Where other departments or incidents are also sharing this channel, efforts should be made to relocate these conversations elsewhere, as well.

A - Account for all companies/teams involved in the incident. It is imperative to keep track of assigned resources. Some assignments may change in response to the Mayday. Make sure you stay abreast of these changes and know where everyone is. Be prepared to help rescue the rescuers in case a second Mayday is called. Although it should be strongly discouraged, some individuals may freelance and some companies may self-dispatch when they hear that a firefighter may be down. If alerted to these situations, advise the IC immediately so that control and accountability can be re-established.

T - Terminate the Mayday when advised to do so. Know who has the authority to call for a cancellation, and once again make sure that everyone gets the message to pull back. Rapid intervention teams may need to be withdrawn quickly once a rescue has been carried out. Tactics on the fireground may change, and crews should not be exposed to any unusual danger for longer than actually required.