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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E - Evaluate the process as soon as possible after completion. What worked? What didn't? What should be done differently next time? Regardless of the outcome, an honest assessment of performance will be of great value in improving policies and procedures. Confine your analysis to the communication process and not the rescue. It is possible to successfully extract a firefighter even if communications were flawed. However, luck may not be on your side the next time. If a serious injury or fatality occurs, consider including a critical incident stress debriefing (CISD) for the communications staff as part of this process.

While the use of any acronym like the word VALIDATE out of necessity places the words from which it is derived in a prescribed order, it should be realized that there will be an overlap in some of these activities during real-world events. In fact, the listening component listed in the above should never stop. However, by using the word VALIDATE to easily remember the key activities involved, agencies increase their chances of carrying out all of these important functions when required.

The role of communications; especially that of the communications center and the dispatcher, should not be overlooked when planning for the Mayday. Chief Goldfeder underscores this importance with these comments: "Fire dispatchers - those truly trained in that role - are the IC's 'aide' and can help make or break an incident. In the case of a Mayday, the fire dispatcher - who is off site - can provide resources to the IC that can clearly contribute to the saving of the trapped firefighters."

It is imperative that every fire department recognize that role and engage in planning that prepares these individuals for their most important performance. While we may hope for the best, we should always plan for the worst.

BARRY FUREY, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is director of the Raleigh-Wake Emergency Communications Center in North Carolina. During his 35-year public safety career, he has managed 911 centers and served as a volunteer fire officer in three other states. In 2002, Furey chaired the Association of Public-safety Communications Officials (APCO) International conference in Nashville, TN, and in 2005 he received an APCO life membership for his continued work in emergency communications.