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.

Progress reporting - Good, clear, concise, and regular progress reports are and absolute necessity. The Incident Commander must receive and if necessary request timely progress reports in order to properly prepare and/or request the necessary tools, equipment and personnel to support the operation. All exiting personnel should be required to report to the Incident Commander or his/her aid their findings, suggested actions for incoming crews and any potential hazards they may have encountered.

Tactical channel designation - As part of an effective Safety Engine/RIT procedure, a Tactical Channel should be assigned exclusively to the Safety Engine/RIT team at the onset of the incident. Safety Engine/RIT team communications should remain separated from regular fireground operations to avoid confusion and potential inappropriate actions of suppression personnel. The Incident Commander or his/her aid must monitor this channel continuously and provide direct communication to dispatch as the need arises.

Emergency evacuation signal - Safety Engine/RIT teams typically operate under conditions that are or will potentially become too hazardous to safely operate within. As an additional measure of safety, personnel operating as part of the Safety Engine/RIT response should be made aware and/or reminded of the emergency evacuation signal/procedure prior to making entry. This is of particular importance during multi-agency operations were evacuation-signaling procedures might differ.


Photo Courtesy Timothy E. Sendelbach
Safety Engine/RIT Crews follow a search line during a simulated deployment operation.

Unquestionably, fireground accountability should be maintained throughout each and every emergency incident. No incident, including multi-alarm fires and specialized rescue operations will ever demand greater accountability efforts on the fireground then an incident involving a lost or trapped firefighter. Adrenal surges and feelings of a desire to act must be controlled through personnel discipline and strictly enforced accountability procedures.

Restricted Entry - Effective accountability during Safety Engine/RIT deployments can be enhanced through the use of restricted entry points. Following the initial PAR report, the Incident Commander should immediately restrict entry to only those members of the Safety Engine/RIT. Upon the request of additional assistance, the Incident Commander can then direct the assigned crew to enter the structure. Consideration should be given to placing accountability officers at each entry point to assist with accountability operations while also enforcing the restricted entry request.

Crew Continuity - The Safety Engine/RIT deployment demands strong leadership and well disciplined personnel; crew continuity throughout is an absolute necessity for proper accountability during firefighter rescue operations. Strict adherence to the orders of the Incident Commander and Company Officers must be followed to prevent further injury and/or loss.


As the Incident Commander of a "Mayday!" incident and/or Safety Engine/RIT deployment operation, it's your job to forecast and/or predict to the best or your ability the needs of the incident. Demands of relief crews and specialized equipment can become overwhelming during such incidents. Proper pre-incident planning and well-defined mutual aid/auto aid agreements should be prepared to ensure your requests are met without delay. No one department can be properly equipped for every incident. Pre-incident planning and a thorough knowledge of your resources will pay dividends during these incidents.

Photo Courtesy Timothy E. Sendelbach
Safety Engine/RIT personnel begin removal operations once a secondary air supply is established.

Personnel Management - As has been stated previously, the transmission of a "Mayday!" causes strong emotional outpouring amongst on scene personnel; proper relief and rotation of working crews must be considered. Personnel management is critical to the success of "Mayday!" incident. The Incident Commander must resist the desire to over commit personnel resources during Safety Engine/RIT operations. The aggressive deployment of personnel resources could very well hinder the rescue effort and cause additional hazards including: secondary collapse due to excessive weight, compromised accountability efforts, etc. The Incident Commander should consider the following when deploying Safety Engine/RIT personnel: