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.


The hands on portion of the drill took place in the basement of the fire station. The MAYDAY props were set up before the drill and the area was placed off limits so no one knew what they were to experience. The four MAYDAY props simulated: falling through a floor, being pinned under a ceiling collapse, getting lost / trapped in room, and becoming stuck while exiting the structure.

The third prop was a small bathroom with a sink and toilet about 5x6 feet. (photo 6) A hose line with nozzle ended in this room. Once inside, the door was closed and a wooden chock placed under the door. This made it impossible for the firefighter to exit the room.

The fourth prop simulated becoming stuck while exiting a building. (photo 7) The prop was a piece of wire rope with a slip loop that was dropped over the firefighters SCBA bottle. As they continued crawling the loop tightened up making it impossible for them to move forward. Try as they may, they could not get loose. (photo 8)

One at a time the firefighters were brought to the outside basement entrance. They were in full turnout gear with SCBA. At the entry point they were given the assignment. "This is a simulated fire with IDLH conditions. You and an imaginary partner are to follow this attack line into the kitchen. When you arrive your assignment is ventilation." The firefighters were reminded of LUNAR, put on air and their face piece blacked out. (photo 9) The door was opened. They were told to go on hands and knees and follow the hose line.

The firefighters immediately had to crawl up the ramp (spotters were on either side), when the teeterboard tilted; they fell into the ball pit. The firefighters were expected to call a MAYDAY. If that was not their first reaction, the instructor prompted them, "What just happened to you?" Answer required, "I fell into something." Prompt, "What are you to do if you fall?" Answer required, "Call a MAYDAY." Prompt, "Correct, do it."

After the firefighters correctly pushed the EIB, said MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY, and gave LUNAR they were told that they were done and were helped out of the ball pit. The instructor then reset the radio. They were told to go down on hands and knees again, crawl to another line, and continue their assignment. After crawling about 15 feet, the chain link fence was dropped on them. The instructors stood on the fence making it impossible to escape. Their correct response was to call a MAYDAY. If the firefighters struggled for more than a minute, they were prompted again. After calling the MAYDAY, they were released, their radio was reset, and they were told to continue their assignment. After another 15-foot crawl, they ended up in the bathroom at the nozzle; the door was chocked closed. This put them in the lost or trapped MAYDAY parameter. If after two minutes of trying to get out they did not call a MAYDAY, they were prompted. After the correct response, they were let out of the bathroom and the radio was reset. Next, they were told to find a nozzle on the floor outside the room they just left, then exit the building by following the line. The line took them around a metal fence/guard rail to a wheelchair ramp that led to the exit. As they turned the corner, a wire rope was dropped over the firefighter's SCBA bottle without their knowledge. After crawling 6 feet, the rope tightened, and they were stuck. After a minute of trying to get loose if they had not started to call the MAYDAY, they were prompted.

Lessons learned: At the first prop, most all the firefighters had to be prompted to call the MAYDAY. Their first instinct was to get out of what they had fallen into. The instructors did not let them get out. Their next challenge was pushing the EIB. This proved to be difficult for most of them and caused frustration and anxiety. The anxiety was evident by the increase in their breathing rate. The frustration was evident when some tried to remove a glove to find the button. Instructors did not allow this. They were prompted, "You just burned your hand. Put the glove back on." Most tried reaching down into the pocket to activate the EIB that usually proved unsuccessful. Some had to take the radio out of the radio pocket, in many cases this manipulation of the top of the radio caused them to change the radio channel. (photo 10) The longest time to successfully push the EIB was 2 minutes. Because of the frustration and anxiety, the LUNAR report was not always given correctly. The frustration and anxiety were most likely due to the fact that this seemingly simple skill of pushing the EIB was not easy. Pushing the emergency identifier button was challenging because the radio sat too far down in the radio pocket, gloved hands made it very difficult to activate the EIB, and the radio was a new style to the department.