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.


At the second prop, the firefighters quickly realized they were not getting out of whatever had fallen on them, so few needed to be prompted to call the MAYDAY. This time restricted movement challenged them because the fence was all around them. Many had to remove the radio from the pocket. Since they had performed the EIB skill once before, they knew they could do it, so they just kept working at it. As the firefighter's EIB skill proficiency level increased, their LUNAR transmission was more accurate.

At the third prop there was no restriction on them physically. Many tried to break down the door; we did not let them do that. Most still had to remove the radio to activate the EIB. They gave LUNAR, but few reported that they were in a bathroom. Only one needed to be prompted to call the MAYDAY after about 2 minutes of just sitting in the room.

At the fourth prop, they were tired and quickly realized their forward movement was stopped. In most cases the "swim technique" did not reveal the rope, so they called a MAYDAY. Their LUNAR usually did not include the fact that they were now trying to exit the building they were still reporting "division one, kitchen, ventilation, trapped."

Only one firefighter was observed to have no difficulty pushing the EIB in the pocket; he even did it without lifting the pocket flap. During the second drill period, Firefighter J.B. Hovatter was observed having not put his radio down in the pocket. He had taught himself to put the pocket flap down inside the pocket and hook the radio clip over the chest strap of the SCBA. This technique positioned the radio halfway down in the pocket keeping the controls outside the pocket, but still securing the radio to the firefighter. He quickly activated the EIB every time. It was decided to teach this technique, "The Hovatter Method", to all remaining firefighters, whose performance level increased dramatically. (photo 11)

A discussion session was held with the class after each drill to show what the props were and to get feedback. Overwhelmingly, they said it was an important learning experience and they all agreed the drill should go department wide.

What some participants said: Division Chief Allen Williams, Health and Safety Officer for the AACOFD who observed the drills said: "Hopefully firefighters will do all they can to not need to call a MAYDAY. However, firefighting is dangerous and the risk is there. Firefighters are reluctant to call MAYDAY. The training forced them to call MAYDAY. The training was excellent. The training is a very good risk management strategy."

Battalion Chief Dave Berry said: "This training shocked them into calling a MAYDAY. It took some of the bravado out of them. It doesn't matter what rank you are we can all get into a situation where we need to call MAYDAY. The drill became the great equalizer. In training it is difficult to shock a person into calling MAYDAY without hurting them; these props can do that. I know now that my battalion can call a MAYDAY if they have to."

Captain Leroux said: "We needed to be coached through calling a MAYDAY; it did not come naturally. We had machismo and self-doubt. Should I or shouldn't I call MAYDAY, I'll be embarrassed. We learned how important it is to call MAYDAY quickly while you still can think and explain where you are and answer questions. It is my crew and I that go in and will be using this skill. When you get in a MAYDAY situation you are going to be so stressed out - calling MAYDAY has to come natural and this training will help."

A firefighter: "When they dropped that fence on me I realized I was done. You are calling people to come get you out. I had to concentrate on getting to the button and calling a MAYDAY."

Some veteran firefighters said, "?it was the best training we have ever received in our career."

Lessons learned: