500 Maydays Called in Rookie School

Authors Note:Brent Batla contributed to this article

For the first time, Mayday Doctrine was incorporated in a Firefighter I course. The mayday training addressed the cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domains of learning at the mastery level of performance. Twenty-two rookie firefighters are now 100% confident in their knowledge, skill, and ability to call mayday if they ever need to.

The mayday curriculum was incorporated into the TrainingDivision.com firefighter rookie school program. The students came from 5 states and 2 counters to qualify for their national Firefighter I, II, Hazmat Awareness, and Hazmat Operations certifications. The students took approximately 332 hours of online study to learn the cognitive course material for the certifications.

The cognitive and affective aspects of mayday doctrine were delivered by having the student take the NFA self study course "Firefighter Safety: Calling the Mayday" which is an online course delivered by Firehouse.com free of charge worldwide. The course contains 2 hours of material that includes reading five online articles about mayday; watching a 50 minute web cast that covers why firefighters are reluctant to call mayday and why is it critical to call mayday immediately when confronted with mayday parameters. The course illustrates, through videotape, how challenging the physical skill of using a portable radio can be when calling mayday. Finally, the students take an online final exam on mayday doctrine that requires a 100% correct passing score.

After passing 39 exams online the students arrived in Crowley TX to begin the two-week, 136 hour resident, psychomotor training portion of the rookie school. The students became members of Training Division Boot Camp 14. The mayday training was incorporated into the PPE, SCBA, Search & Rescue, and Hose Advancing evolutions of the rookie school. Mayday training was accomplished with no appreciable time being added to the curriculum.

To facilitate the firefighters competence using the portable radio each student was issued a radio on the second day of boot camp. Students were required to have their radio with them at all time during course hours. This enabled instructors to communicate with individual students, to companies they were assigned to, and the entire class as needed. The students responded to PAR's whenever requested by instructors, teams could be give work assignments, student's could ask questions, and make reports. The radios were considered an important tool that enhanced communications during the 2-week boot camp. Using the radio made the student competent in normal, response, and emergency traffic communications situations.

The portable radio must become a normal part of firefighter's PPE just like SCBA, gloves, and hood. Firefighters can not go into IDLH environments without a portable radio. Firefighters must be as competent using the radio as they are with SCBA because their life depends on it. Therefore, radio training was considered part of the PPE training requirement.

To imprint the Mayday Calling Knowledge, Skill, and Ability (KSA) on to the students brain and body; they stated out in full PPE with portable radio and were covered with a tarp (photo 1.) They laid face down under the tarp, while on breathing air they used their left hand to locate the radio mike and call mayday using LUNAR (Location, Unit, Name, Assignment, Resources Needed See End Note). Their partner, in another location acting as command, received the mayday call and repeated the LUNAR information back to the down firefighter. If the correct information was not sent or received accurately the process was repeated until 100% competency was achieved. Still in a face down position the student repeated calling mayday using the right hand to locate the radio and send the mayday. Students then laid on their right side, left side, back, and kneeling/bent forward and repeated the mayday call process using the left and right hand achieving 100% competency in each position. At a minimum the student practiced calling mayday 10 times. This skills drill helped students learn how to locate and use their radio in various body positions with both hands. It also gave them practice talking over the radio giving and receiving information. This sounds easy but the skill takes practice and drill to master and maintain competence.

To simulate the mayday parameters, Training Dividion.com built the "Entrapinator." This training prop is made of 6 Modules each representing a mayday parameter (photo 2). Students are in PPE, with radio, and blacked out facemask. Mod one is lost/ trapped; the student enters the box but can not get out (photo 3). Mod 2 (lobster trap), the student gets stuck and can not go forwarded or backwards (photo 4). Mod 3 the students get stuck again this time on simulated wires (photo 5). Mod 4 ceiling collapse, panels are lowered on to the student (photo 6). Mod 5 simulates falling through the floor (photo 7). Mod 6 the firefighter is trapped and must breach a wall to escape (photo 8). At each module the student must call mayday and insure that command has received the correct LUNAR information. The first and second time through the Entrapinator the students are coached through each module if needed, to increase their skill and confidence. The third time, they are tested and must pass with 100% competency. Students who do not meet this standard are remediate with individual instruction until mayday calling master is achieved.

When the class went to the burn building a piece of chain link fence was used to simulate ceiling collapse, a wire rope snare was used to get them stuck (photo 9), and a doorway was blocked shut to trap them (photo 10). These mayday props were used during blacked out mask drills while advancing hose lines and while conducting searches. The mayday situations were repeated again under live fire and smoke conditions at the burn building. As soon as downed firefighter received conformation of their mayday from command the instructors let them out of the prop. The student then reported they were free to command, to cancel the mayday, and that they would contain their assignment. Two instructors were used for these evolutions to insure student safety at all times.

It was determined that adding the mayday situations during live fire and smoke evolutions in burn building (this can not be done in acquired structures) with two dedicated instructors did not add any additional risk factors to the students. It must be remembered that these students were 100% component and confident in there knowledge, skills, and abilities to call mayday before being confronted with mayday parameters under live fire conditions. Being confronted with a mayday parameter during live fire must not be imposed on an untrained or unprepared firefighter, regardless of their years of experience, because the resulting stress may trigger an uncontrolled, incorrect, and possibly dangerous response.

From this work we developed a detailed Mayday Calling Task Analysis for the cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domain which consists of 43 tasks (Figure 1 Word). This information was used to developed draft standards for five Mayday Calling Job Performance Requirements (JPR) that students were tested to. A total of 126 test items were identified (Figure 2 Word). The authors do not assume this to be the final definitive work on Firefighter Mayday Standards, JPRs, or curriculum. Others are encouraged to use and build on this information. We understand there are national standards making and curriculum development systems for creating fire service doctrine. It is our hope that these prestigious organizations incorporated mayday doctrine in their deliberations and publications.

By the end of Boot Camp Fourteen 22 firefighters had called 500 Maydays. Over the next 30 years we hope these firefighters never have to call a mayday for real but they have been training to do so. Now, they must maintain that mayday calling competency throughout their fire service career because their life depends on it.


We understand that various fire department may want their firefighters to report deferent types of information in a different order.

We chose the LUNAR system for the following reasons.

When the word mayday is heard over a fire ground radio it is understood that the RIC is needed to enter an IDLH environment to rescue a firefighter. With just that one word command can begin the process of determining who called and where they are suppose to be by requesting a PAR. After the word mayday is communicated, if the only word the downed firefighter can get out is their location e.g. "Division 2" we know they are on second floor. The IC should know what companies were sent to the second floor.

When giving Location we taught our rookies to also give their quadrant on the floor using the Quadrant A, B, C, D, & E system (Figure 3 Image). If the downed firefighter can report their Unit e.g. "Engine 24" command has a better idea of their location. By giving their Name "Smith" command knows specifically who the RIC is looking for, this is critical if more then one firefighter is brought out to insure that no one is left in the building. Finally, Assignment lets command know what the firefighter was doing e.g. "Checking for Extension". Some fire department's also want the firefighter to report their air supply if they can, so "A" can be for Assignment and Air Supply.

The resources needed helps command and the RIC know what happened and what to bring e.g. "I'm stuck in some wires need wire cutters" When put together it is communicated like this: "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, Division 2 Quadrant A, Engine 24, Smith, Checking for extension, I'm stuck in wires need cutters". This sentence may seem simple but under stress getting it correct is not easy. Firefighters must practice this often if they expect to be %100 competent. Command and RIC officers also need to train their listening skills to get the information correct the first time.

Whatever information communications system your fire department chooses to use for Mayday, the training requirement is the same Practice, Practice, and Practice.

Related Article Information:

Related Webcasts Other Mayday Related Articles:
Authors Note: TrainingDivision.com

We are grateful to the January 2005 Interpersonal Dynamics class Section 1 and 2 at the National Fire Academy for their original research contribution to creating the Mayday Job Performance Requirements: Stuart Dalton, VA; Ryan Merrill, NC; Tim Pitts, KS Mike Schuppe, CO; G.P. Tucker, MD; John Galganski, VA; David Hooker, TX; Daniel Juga, WI; Les Norin, IA; Brian Ritter, TX; Brent Shanklin, TX; and Darin Swedenborg, VA.

Brent Batla is the Training Officer for the Burleson Fire Department, Burleson, TX. He holds an A.S. degree in Fire Science, B.S. Degree in Psychology, and is currently completing a M.S. Degree in Fire and Emergency Management from Oklahoma State University. He is co-owner of TrainingDivision.com, an international fire service training company, and an Emergency Services Training Center located in Crowley Texas. Brent and his company are members of the Texas Association of Fire Educators. Brent and his team of instructors created the "Entrapinator" to help develop firefighter mayday skills.