Mayday – Mayday – Mayday: One More Item for Pandora's Box

This past week has been a truly interesting slice of life for me. You would expect that since this week is smack dab in the middle of winter that things would be slow, plodding, and uninteresting. Not really my friends. There was a great convergence of differing things that has fueled my desire to share them with you.

On Wednesday afternoon, I spent an extremely profitable hour attending Dr. Burt Clark's "Mayday Seminar" on I found the program to be an enlightening and valuable addition to my personal database. I also came to feel that this is an area where we must all come together. That is just what I told Dr. Denis Onieal during our phone conversations the next day.

As a matter of fact I brought it up to a number of buddies at a social event the other night. It was Saturday night and I was fortunate enough to have the chance to discuss training-related issues with my friends John Bihuniak of the Freehold Township Independent Fire Company #1 and Nolan Higgins, Larry Jackson, Bill Itinger, and Norm Miles of the Freehold Borough Fire Department.

We were all sharing the hospitality of the Freehold Township Independent Fire Company at their Siloam Road fire station (located an area that can still be called the country). We have all been battling blazes together for more than 20 years. As a matter of fact, Norm, Bill, and I go back more than 40 years to my time as a cadet member in the Freehold First Aid Squad. During our trip down memory lane we discussed the pros and cons of creating a new training program for "Mayday-related" situations.

John Bihuniak made the comment that by introducing this concept to our people, we might be opening a Pandora's Box of problems for ourselves. I paused and pondered John's words for a moment. I asked him what he meant and he replied that we have so much on our plate now for training that this might become one more thing to get lost in the rush to handle all of the mandated training programs. As we worked our way around the table, each person commented on the need for something to help us when we get into a tight spot.

We agreed that we have made great strides on the training and use of RIT/FAST crews. I personally feel that RIT/FAST that is only one side of the equation; it is the outside-in side of the problem. How effective can a RIT/FAST crew be if the person that needs their help has never been trained on the proper procedure for calling that help? The guts of this commentary deals with the importance of arming our people with the necessary skills and parameters to recognize the need to initiate a Mayday call. That is the inside-out issue with which we must deal.

I recall saying to John that Pandora's Box was opened a long time ago. It was opened by the use of the NFPA standards, as supplemented by a variety of state mandates such as two-in/two-out. I suggested to him that I needed to create a list of the top ten things from Pandora's Box that the fire service needed to address. It is my intention to create this list over time.

It is also my intention to make the "Mayday" response one of my top priorities. Since Dr. Burt is a friend of long-standing, and his passion for this critical topic was obvious as he moved through the one-hour session, I owe it to him to help him raise the fire service's awareness of the need for this training.

He made a number of really important points about the need to drill on this life and death topic. This is one of those skill sets which we all hope that we will never need to use. However, I was deeply impressed with the depth and range of his research. I personally had to ask whether or not each of us possess the tools in this skill set. I hope so, because we will each only get one shot. Burt was right when he said that we should get this training in recruit school and continue to drill and practice it throughout our careers.

Burt Clark (2005) tells us that "every fire department in the country has detailed SOP's explaining who on the fire ground will do what, when a firefighter calls MAYDAY. The RIT is activated, radio channels are changed, additional chiefs and units are dispatched.