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...

For trapped firefighters it states, ?These firefighters should immediately activate their PASS devices. If either trapped or disoriented firefighters have radios, they should try to make radio contact as quickly as possible with other personnel on the emergency scene? (p. 182). Our mayday standards and training doctrine clearly indicates that we have not researched the concept of a firefighter-calling mayday scientifically.

To study the concept of a person recognizing they are in trouble and need help, I tried to do some benchmarking by looking to others who have addressed similar issues. The place I started with was Navy fighter pilots and the concept of ejection from their aircraft.

In terms of macho, firefighters and Navy pilots are about equal. This is the first assumption I made. Next, the decision to pull the ejection cord is similar to the firefighter making the decision to call mayday. Both the pilot and the firefighter are using their last resort to save their life. The ejection mechanism and our system to save downed firefighters are useless until the individual in trouble cognitively and effectively recognize this fact and act accordingly.

When the pilot punches out, the aircraft is lost. There is the potential for injury to people and property on the ground, and the pilot may be injured or killed. When a firefighter calls mayday, other firefighters are put at risk to save him or her. The mayday decision for the fire service must be considered extremely consequential.

The ejection doctrine for pilots begins as follows. "The first and absolutely most important factor in the ejection process is the decision to eject" (Ejection seat training operations and maintains manual. p 3-1, Environmental Tectonics Corp. Southampton PA 1999). "You should understand that the decision to eject or bailout must be made by the pilot on the ground before flying.

You should establish firmly and clearly in your mind under which circumstances you will abandon the aircraft" (Ejection seat trainer. p2. Environmental Tectonics Corp. Southampton, PA).

A key source of Navy ejection doctrine is the NATOPS manual for each aircraft. ?The Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization Program (NATOPS) is a positive approach toward improving combat readiness and achieving a substantial reduction in the aircraft accident rate.

Standardization, based on professional knowledge and experience, provides the basis for development of an efficient and sound operational procedure. The standardization program is not planned to stifle individual initiative, but rather to aid the Commanding Officer in increasing his units combat potential without reducing his command prestige or responsibility? (W.D. Houser, Vice Admiral, USN. Letter of Promulgation. May 1, 1975).

The U.S. Navy F-4J jet fighter NATOPS flight manual (1995) contains the following ejection parameters:


  • If conditions for no-flap carrier landing are not optimum, eject.
  • If neither engine can be restarted, eject.
  • If a fire exists after catapult launch, should control be lost and not regained immediately, eject.
  • If control speed/gross weight combinations exceed available arresting gear limits, eject.
  • If field landing cannot be made, eject.
  • If hydraulic pressure does not recover, eject.
  • If carrier landing and all landing gear is up, eject.
  • If carrier landing and one main plus nose gear up, eject.
  • If the combination of weather, landing facilities and pilot experience is less then ideal, consideration should be given to a controlled ejection.
  • It is recommended that a landing on unprepared terran not be attempted with this airplane, the crew should eject.
  • If still out of control by 10,000 feet above terrene, eject.
  • If the flap and or BLS failure accurse during the catapult stroke or shortly thereafter, eject immediately.
  • It is important to remember that each different type of aircraft has its own ejection parameters. Pilot ejection training consists of classroom and flight simulator to develop cognitive and effective skill. Then the ejection seat trainer is used to imprint the psychomotor skill. Ejection retraining occurs every 6 to 12 months.

The failure or delay to eject can be attributed to 10 reasons that must be addressed in ejection training according to Richard Leland, Director Aeromedical Training Institute Environmental Tectonics Corp.