Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!

What are the Mayday decision parameters for firefighters? How do we teach the Mayday decision-making process to firefighters? How much Mayday practice do firefighters need?These must be the most frighting three words that can be heard over the fire ground...


What are the Mayday decision parameters for firefighters? How do we teach the Mayday decision-making process to firefighters? How much Mayday practice do firefighters need?These must be the most frighting three words that can be heard over the fire ground radio. Everyone who hears the call knows that what was a public emergency, which we the fire department came to solve, has now become an emergency for us. Something has gone wrong and one of our own needs help.

Every fire department in the country has detailed SOPs explaining who on the fire ground will do what, when a firefighter calls MAYDAY. The RIT is activated, radio channels are changed, additional chiefs and units are dispatched. We have all trained extensively on these procedures. We have developed special techniques on how to get downed firefighters out of tight spaces or up through holes. And we carry an RIT bag on the apparatus.

All this is important, but it is the easy part of the process. We have almost completely ignored the most important first step, getting the firefighter to recognize they are in trouble and need to get help, to call MAYDAY.

What mayday decision parameters have we given firefighters? How do we teach the cognitive and affective mayday decision-making process? How do we teach the psychomotor skill to execute the decision?

We have not answered these questions satisfactorily. Our standards and training are woefully lacking for this critical firefighter personal life saving competency.

The NFPA 1001 Standards for Fire Fighter Professional Qualifications (1997) does not definitively address the concept of mayday. The word mayday is not used in the standard. There is a mayday inference in the Firefighter I Standard 3-2.3 that reads, "transmit and receive via fire department radio". The firefighter is to know "Departmental radio procedures and etiquette for routine traffic, emergency traffic". The skill is " the ability to operate radio equipment and distinguish between routine and emergency traffic" (p.1001-1).

Mayday is again alluded to in Standard 3-3.4. It reads, "Exit a hazardous area as a team"; knowledge "?elements that create or indicate a hazard"; skill "? evaluate area for hazard" (p. 1001-7).

There is more verbiage on auto extraction then mayday in the standard. In Firefighter II the only standard that comes close to mayday is 4-2.3. It reads, ?communicate the need for team assistance?; knowledge ??fire department radio communications procedures?; skill ? the ability to operate fire department communications equipment.? This standard seems to be about routine assistance not mayday conditions.

The Firefighter?s Handbook (2000), chapter 23, has a section titled ?Firefighter?s Emergencies?. The opening paragraph reads in part, ?To help understand the actions to be taken during an actual or potential firefighter emergency, the firefighter must study procedures for rapid escape and declaring a mayday for lost or trapped situations? (p. 690). Under entrapments it reads, ?The first step a firefighter should take in an entrapment is to get assistance. Activation of a PASS device is warranted and the declaration of a ?mayday? should be made over the radio? (p. 692). Under the heading of ?Lost firefighter? it reads, ?We cannot overemphasize that a fighter or team lost in an IDLH atmosphere is in fact experiencing a firefighter emergency? (p. 692). "First, the firefighter or team must report the fact they are lost. This is also a mayday situation and should be transmitted as such over the radio? (p. 693).

Essentials of Fire Fighting (1998) does not refer to the word mayday. In the ?Rescue and Extrication? chapter there is a section titled ?Trapped or Disoriented Firefighters?. In regard to disoriented firefighters it states, ?If they are not having any success finding their way out, they should find a place of relative safety and activate their PASS devices? (p. 181).

This content continues onto the next page...