MAYDAY On The Fireground

Mark McLees stresses the importance of having effective MAYDAY procedures and offers some advice on preparing them.


The operation had gone to a defensive mode due to the heavy fire volume in the mattress factory. The priority was to contain the fire to the structure of origin. Exposure 2 was a 10-foot alley; exposure 3 was a rear yard; and exposure 4 was a similar attached three-story building of ordinary...


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In Syracuse, a MAYDAY gets an immediate (additional) response of three engine companies and one truck company. A second alarm, or some other automatic aid arrangement, may be the quickest and simplest way to obtain a dedicated rapid intervention crew while also meeting your goals at the MAYDAY incident.

There may arise a MAYDAY situation where tools or equipment not common to engine or truck companies are needed. Some communities may have a specialized collapse or rescue unit. Notify this company in the initial process. If there is no rescue company routinely dispatched in your community, then "special call a rescue" from another community immediately when a MAYDAY is declared.

If an ambulance is not routinely dispatched to fire incidents, then this also must be addressed in the MAYDAY procedure. Due to the nature of the situation (unknown degree and number of injuries), perhaps it would be in everyone's best interest to have two ambulances dispatched on any MAYDAY. This will then provide a second unit to cover civilian injuries or additional firefighter injuries. At the very least, an ALS ambulance needs to be included in the initial MAYDAY response.

It is also important to address the needs for additional line supervisors once second-alarm companies begin to arrive at the MAYDAY. Third- or fourth-due chiefs should be included on the MAYDAY request sheet. The incident rapidly escalates when a firefighter injury occurs. Supervising and controlling the fireground forces becomes even more critical in an effort to remain focused on the task at hand.

Written procedures should also address long duration operations. Additional specialized units such as cascades or rehab units should also be listed on the resource request list. While not as important as that hydraulic tool, their presence on the fireground will be valued in the long run. With speed dialers and personal pagers abundantly available, the entire MAYDAY recall or resource list can be notified within minutes.

Timely notification and requests for additional resources cannot be stressed enough. Local conditions will decide the response times of these MAYDAY companies. If there will be any delay, the procedures must address this weakness beforehand. Waiting 30 minutes for an ambulance or airbags is not acceptable.

Once these resources are on their way, what does the IC want from them? The MAYDAY policy must continue to make the incident flow smoothly by dove-tailing into the incident command system. An apparatus staging area will need to be set up. In Syracuse, the third-due engine (of the three MAYDAY engine companies responding) is required to respond to the fire station closest to the MAYDAY incident. According to the Syracuse general order, "This will give the IC the flexibility of an additional company close by and ready to respond if needed." It is not a move-up or fill-in company.

A work force of fresh troops also needs to be established in a manpower pool. The location of both these areas must be chosen by the IC. While tactics and strategy for a MAYDAY incident will be made up on the spot, it is imperative that as much preplanning as possible take place to maximize the rescue effort. Include a simple statement such as that given in the Syracuse general order: "Upon arrival at a MAYDAY, all members including drivers will report to the manpower pool in full protective gear, SCBA, spare bottle and hand tool."

Transmitting a MAYDAY is done over the radio. The IC needs resources immediately at a MAYDAY but someone else (the dispatcher) may be the one obtaining them. During the procedure writing and planning stage, a dialogue must take place and input obtained from fire dispatchers.

Many new E-911 systems are in the hands of authorities other than the fire chief. MAYDAY procedures need to be understood by civilian dispatchers. These individuals can find themselves dispatching police, fire and ambulance all within an eight-hour shift. Though "cross-training" is a manager's dream, it is not conducive to creating dispatchers who can specialize in one discipline.

Do not sacrifice any details of your MAYDAY strategy to outside agencies. Find out if the hardware is in place at the communication center to accomplish your plans. Do not relent until you get a commitment from all agencies to follow your MAYDAY procedures once they are in place. With the one word MAYDAY given to the dispatcher, a pre-planned process should begin immediately. There is no room for error or delay in the notification process.