Calling A Mayday: The Drill

Calling a MAYDAY is a complicated cognitive, affective, and psychomotor skill set that relies on a radio and the communication system, both human and hardware, that gets the call for help.


Calling a MAYDAY is a complicated cognitive, affective, and psychomotor skill set that relies on a radio and the communication system, both human and hardware, that gets the call for help.

Thanks to the cooperation of the Anne Arundel County Fire Department (AACOFD), the Maryland Fire Rescue Institute (MFRI), and the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department (LVFD) the firefighter MAYDAY concepts presented by Clark (2001, 2003) and Clark, Auch, & Angulo (2002, 2003) were put to the test and passed with high marks. The Mayday Doctrine theory is based on an analysis of the engineering, psychology, physiology, and training aspects of a firefighter calling a Mayday. This analysis used jet fighter pilot ejection doctrine models as the foundation (benchmark) for developing firefighter Mayday Doctrine.

Over a three-day period 91 firefighters and officers experienced what it may be like to call a MAYDAY using their cognitive, affective, and psychomotor skills. The overwhelming conclusion by all who participated was that everyone needs this type of training and it needs to be repeated throughout your time in the service. Battalion Chief Dave Berry of the Anne Arundel County Fire Department conducted the training for Battalion 3 on all three shifts. (photo1) The drill consisted of classroom lecture and hands on practice. Each class size was about 15 students, two drills per day (AM and PM) six drill deliveries total.

Chief Berry used the mayday articles as the foundation for the lecture portion of the Battalion Drill, "Calling a MAYDAY." In addition he asked 110 firefighters "What Makes You Call a MAYDAY?" From this extensive list he narrowed the MAYDAY Parameters down to six words: Fall, Collapse, Activated (low air or PASS device), Caught, Lost, Trapped. To drive the need for Mayday training home, the Seattle, Washington Fire Department videotape of the three firefighter near misses was presented. This tape clearly illustrates how quickly a firefighter becomes incapable of calling the MAYDAY because of carbon monoxide that reduces cognitive decision-making and small motor skills and the psychological reluctance of firefighters to call for help. An additional videotape of the near LODD of an Anne Arundel County firefighter brought the point home that this can happen to you and you only get one chance to call MAYDAY correctly.

The most elaborate prop simulated falling through the floor. This prop was designed and built by Engineering Technician Donny Boyd of the MFRI. The prop consists of a ramp the firefighter crawls up. (photo 2) At the top is a teeter board, which when the firefighter crosses the center of gravity, tilts forward; (photo 3) dumping the firefighter into the third part of the prop, the ball pit. (photo 4) The ball pit is actually filled with cut up swim noodles because they were less expensive than balls and are more durable. A key concern was safety of the firefighter. No one was hurt but the firefighters knew that they had suddenly fallen into something. The transportable prop was build for under $1000.00

The second prop, simulating a ceiling collapse, was made of chain link fencing that was dropped over the firefighters as they crawled under it. (photo 5) Two instructors then stood on the fence restricting the firefighters movement and making it impossible for them to escape.

The classroom lecture also covered the three AAFD procedures for calling a MAYDAY. First, push the emergency identifier button (EIB) on the radio. This captures the channel for 20 seconds, gives an open mike to the radio (in other words the firefighter does not need to push the talk button on the radio), and sends an emergency signal to radio communications identifying the radio. Second, announce MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY. Third give LUNAR: L location, U unit number, N name, A assignment (What were you doing?), R resources (what do you need?). The classroom portion of the drill took about 90 minutes. Chief Berry distributed a job aid, the size of a business card, to all participants; it listed the six MAYDAY parameters on one side and the three procedures for calling a MAYDAY on the other side.

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