When Would You Call Mayday-Mayday-Mayday?

Somehow we think firefighters will intuitively know when to call for help. This is a very dangerous assumption.Hopefully you will never need to call mayday for yourself, or any other firefighter. But you need to be prepared to do so because your life may...


Somehow we think firefighters will intuitively know when to call for help. This is a very dangerous assumption.Hopefully you will never need to call mayday for yourself, or any other firefighter. But you need to be prepared to do so because your life may depend on this single decision.

When firefighters are asked, "When would you call Mayday?" you get some unexpected answers like: "I push the orange button on my radio." or "I don't have to worry about that because I am on the engine company and I have the hose line to find my way out. It is the truckees that go above the fire that need to call mayday." These are actual answers from career firefighters in large metro fire departments.

When you push firefighters to answer the question they will usually rely on the statements in their SOP like "When Lost-Missing-Trapped and their life is in danger firefighters will announce Mayday-Mayday-Mayday." When you ask the firefighter to give an example of Lost, Missing or Trapped they have a difficult time coming up with a specific example. Then they start including statements like "It depends on your experience" even though they have never had the experience of calling mayday.

The problem is that we have not clearly defined lost, missing, or trapped. We leave it up to each firefighter to define these terms. Somehow we think firefighters will intuitively know when to call for help. This is a very dangerous assumption. Presently we do not teach firefighters when and how to call mayday at the cognitive, affective, and psychomotor levels of learning to the Mastery level of performance.

If a firefighter must perform a decision making process and execute a set of skills very rarely or never in their career but the decision and behavior have life or death consequences they must be trained and retrained throughout their career.

We can learn from how the military trains pilots to eject. First, there are very specific ejection decision parameters for each type of aircraft. The ejection decision parameters are a series of IF- THEN logic statements for example: If conditions for no-flap carrier landing are not optimum, eject. If neither engine can be restarted, eject. If hydraulic pressure does not recover, eject. If still out of control by 10,000 feet above terrene, eject (NATOPS flight manual F-4J, US Navy 1995). There can be a dozen or more ejection parameters for a specific aircraft.

Once the trainees have these memorized they will confront these parameters at any time during flight simulator training. One pilot indicated that he had to eject 60% of the time during flight simulator training. Pilot trainees must then train physically on the ejection trainer. This is an ejection seat fixed to a vertical rail that catapults the student up, simulating the ejection process. The student must pass the process at the 100% proficiency level (70% is not a passing score on one chance -- only life and death tasks).

Once the pilot and crew get their wings they still retrain on ejection every 6 months. They are also required to have flight simulator drills 6 times per year, during the training sorties they will be forced to make the ejection decision 3 or 4 times with 100% accuracy. The ejection doctrine is reviewed before every takeoff at the preflight briefing. Finally, each member of the crew realizes that the pilot is in charge of the plane but individuals are in charge of their ejection seat. Any crewmember can make the ejection decision if conditions fall with in the ejection parameters (Capt. William "Stainless" Steele USAF personal interview May 16, 2002 {Stainless is a B1 bomber pilot he and his crew ejected December 12, 2001 over the Indian Ocean}).

In spite of all this training and practice pilots still fail or delay to eject. According to Richard Leland, Director Aeromedical Training Institute Environmental Tectonics Corp., there are 10 reasons for failure or delayed ejection that must be address in ejection training:

 

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