Managing the Fireground Mayday

Over the past five years, the fire service has placed a new emphasis on firefighter rescue, an emphasis never before considered to be necessary.

Consider the following PRE-FIRE INDICATORS and how they that can potentially lead to a fireground "Mayday!" and/or compromise the Safety Engine/RIT operation:


Fuel Loads - Excessive fuel loads (flammable/combustible) noted in the pre-fire planning are an indication of potential rapid-fire development which may lead to firefighters becoming trapped or overcome firefighters during the initial firefight.

Building history - The history of a building should play a major part in the strategy and tactics deployed at every fire incident. Previous fires, structural collapses, renovations, which are known, and unknown to the fireground commander may lead to the entrapment of firefighters.

Deterioration - A factor of the modern fireground continues to be vacant buildings or buildings of poor repair. As firefighters going through most fire academies we are taught that all buildings are occupied until proven otherwise. As a fireground commander, proper risk management must play a significant part in our decisions to deploy initial crews into an occupancy in which a high potential for firefighter injury or loss exist. Pre-fire planning should enable us to identify which buildings within our response district require absolute defensive operations to support firefighter safety and survival.

Support Systems / Truss Construction - Examples of firefighter fatalities have been shared with the fire service concerning truss collapses for years, from the bowstrings of Hackensack to the lightweight large spans of Chesapeake, bowstring and lightweight truss construction must be of the utmost concern to the fireground commander.

Following a recent lightweight truss collapse in which two (2) firefighters lost their lives, Francis Brannigan was quoted as saying: "Being under a burning truss, is like playing RUSSIAN ROULETTE with a LOADED REVOLVER." As fireground commanders begin to consider deploying Safety Engine/RIT teams for firefighter rescue efforts, careful consideration must be given to the potential of truss collapse, which may very well further complicate if not compound the rescue efforts.

Consider the following ON-SCENE indicators and how they that can potentially lead to a Mayday incident:

  • Prolonged burn time, continued or heavy fire throughout the structure
  • Smoke showing through walls - extensive structural damage, gas accumulations
  • Inadequate ventilation / flammable gas accumulations, potential for rapid fire development
  • Sagging floors, bulging walls, interior collapse - major damage to structural integrity
  • Water between bricks, excessive water in the building - excessive downward force
  • Two or more floors involved in fire - multi-point structural compromise
  • Unprotected steel - direct flame impingement of structural components, collapse pending

Additional preparatory efforts that determine the success or failure of a Mayday incident include the following:

Firefighter survival training - Firefighters who have been properly trained in self-survival skills can greatly enhance the possibility of a successful Safety Engine/RIT team rescue. Standardized, predicable actions of a trapped, lost or disoriented member will enable rescuers to locate and extract the member in a much more timely manner.

Standardized self-survival actions:

  • Initiate an emergency "Mayday" / Activate Emergency Distress Button
  • Stay Calm, Preserve Your Air Supply
  • Activate P.A.S.S.
  • Provide a situation / problem report
  • If trapped or disoriented as a crew, stay together
  • Search for an exit - look for light
  • Attempt to follow a hose line / life line to safety
  • Retreat to an area of safety
  • Assume a horizontal position to enhance the audible signal of your P.A.S.S. and enhance thermal protection
  • Use your flashlight as a beacon device / Attempt to make tapping noises using tools or other objects.

Fireground Preparations - Proactive fireground preparations for survival cannot be over stated. As was mentioned originally with the introduction of the Safety Engine Concept, proactive fireground operations dedicated to firefighter self-survival help aid in the success and/or prevention of the "Mayday!" incident.