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.

Safety Engine/RIT - In the event of a Mayday incident, physical and mental limitations will be taxed to their limits, rescuers must be forced to follow the rules of personal safety throughout. Firefighters who become involved in a rescue operation oftentimes fail to recognize their personal limitations and may very quickly become victims themselves. Safety Engine/RIT team discipline remains paramount to the safety and effectiveness of the overall operation. Safety Engine/RIT teams who fail to follow the strict directions of the Incident Commander and their respective Safety Engine/RIT Officer will undoubtedly become a victim themselves.

Suppression Personnel Discipline - The desire to be involved plays a critical part in all fireground operations. As the initial arriving company to a working structure fire, everyone wants to be part of the action, it's human nature, it's our training and the overwhelming culture of the modern fire service. "Mayday!" incidents in which the Safety Engine/RIT is deployed, like so many others bring about an uncontrollable magnetism to the action. Personnel assigned to fire attack/suppression operations must overcome the desire to get involved. As tough as it may be, strict discipline must be enforced to ensure proper accountability. Previously assigned fire attack/suppression crews must maintain their position in order to limit the threat of flame impingement on the trapped or disoriented firefighter(s).

A trapped or disoriented firefighter has two factors working against him/her, limited air supply and flame impingement barring the fact that direct physical trauma is not involved. Fire suppression or attack personnel serve as a safety blanket for the trapped or lost member(s). Suppressing or limiting the fire spread enables rescuers to initiate the necessary search or extrication efforts without having to fear being overrun by fire; although this action is easily described, the reality is the temptation is overwhelming to abandon the hose line to help our fallen comrade. Strict discipline and personal confidence must be instilled in each of our firefighting crews. Simply stated, we have a job to do, and we all must complete the task assigned to us to ensure the prescribed objective is met in a safe and effective manner.



As the Incident Commander during a "Mayday!" incident in which a firefighter(s) is lost, trapped or disoriented within a structure, your composure, self-control and self-discipline are sure to be tested. The Incident Commander must immediately begin to build a support staff for immediate and post-incident needs to help alleviate the overwhelming demands that are sure to follow. Additionally, the complexities both physically and mentally of an incident involving a downed firefighter can and will quickly overwhelm the expertise of one individual. Specialized staff personnel should be summons immediately to assist.

In preparation for a fireground "Mayday!" and subsequent Safety Engine/RIT deployment, departments should consider establishing a procedure (if not currently in place) that enables the Incident Commander to request a specialized support staff when necessary. An example of such a procedure may be that of an administrative callback which immediately notifies command staff personnel.


As with any good firefight, the successful rescue of a trapped or distressed firefighter is dependent upon a well-defined rescue action plan that is continuously reviewed, revised, and updated. The IC must understand regardless of his/her experience level, training, and personal confidence, the initial plan may not always be the best plan; reevaluation and willingness to compromise is the key to success.


The ole saying we must be "part of the solution, NOT part of the problem" must play a part in the Safety Engine/RIT response. As we begin our rescue efforts, adrenalin often times overruns our ability to think clearly which may inevitably lead to rescuer injuries thus further complicating the rescue operation. Regardless of the number of members trapped, lost or disoriented, we must defend ourselves from becoming a part of the problem - we are there to be part of the solution. The control of personal emotions and the maintenance of strong discipline remains a priority in our rescue efforts.


As with any incident, effective fireground communications are paramount for the successful management of a fireground "Mayday!" and Safety Engine/RIT deployment. The Incident Commander or his/her aid must maintain constant communication with the Safety Engine/RIT personnel throughout the operation.