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...


2. Reluctance to relinquish control of ones situation.

3. Channeled attention (continuing with a previous selected course of action because other more significant information is not perceived).

4. Loss of situational awareness (controlled flight into terrain).

5. Fear of the unknown (reluctance to leave the security of the cockpit)

6. Fear of retribution (loss of the aircraft)

7. Lack of procedural knowledge

8. Attempting to fix the problem.

9. Pride (ego)

10. Denial (this isn't happening to me.)

The military model of developing ejection doctrine may be useful to the fire service to develop Mayday doctrine for firefighters. 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 you mind under which circumstances you will abandon the aircraft" (Ejection seat trainer. p2 Environmental Tectonics Corp. Southampton, PA).

Based on this assumption we developed a draft Mayday Decision Parameters for a Single Family Dwelling (SFD). The SFD was selected because it is a basic type of structure fire common to many fire departments, it is a high risk to firefighters, and was describable. Keep in mind that we will need a Mayday Decision Parameter for each type of structure we enter. A qualitative method was used that included brain storming (individual and small group) to create the specific parameters (the first research team to help develop these parameters were John Koike, Dennis Culbertson, Tommy Harmon, Linda Pellegrini, and Tom Wiley of the NFA Interpersonal Dynamics Class Dec. 20, 2001 instructors Paul Burkhart and Howard Cross, research advisor Burton Clark). An opinion survey, using convenience sample populations (N=339), was used to determine if firefighters agreed or disagreed that they must call a mayday under specific conditions. This research methodology has significant limitations because it relies on judgment and opinion. The results are not conclusive and have not been field-tested. They are presented only to foster further discussion and study of fire service Mayday doctrine.

Survey Results 339 Respondents

MAYDAY DECISION PARAMETERS: SINGLE FAMILY DWELLING DETACHED, 1 or 2 STORY WITH OR WITHOUT BASEMENT* IDLH ENVIRONMENT SCBA IN USE

A firefighter must call a mayday for themselves under these conditions.
% said YES Possible Mayday Conditions
98% Tangled, Pinned, or Stuck; low air alarm activation, Mayday
94% Fall through roof, Mayday
92% Tangled, Pinned, or Stuck and do not extricate self in 60 seconds, Mayday
89% Caught in flashover, Mayday
88% Fall through floor, Mayday
82% Zero visibility, no contact with hose or lifeline, do not know direction to exit, Mayday
69% Primary exit blocked by fire or collapse, not at secondary exit in 30 seconds, Mayday
69% Low air alarm activation, not at exit (door or window) in 30 seconds, Mayday
58% Cannot find exit (door or window) in 60 seconds, Mayday

*ASSUMPTIONS: SFDs usually have a front door and back door. Most rooms, except for bathrooms, have at least one window that could be used as an exit. The exception to door and window assumptions will be the basement, attic, hallways, closets, storage areas, and attached garage. NOTE: SFDs with bared windows or windows too small or too high from floor to use as an exit are excluded from this MDP.

Respondents: this was a convenience sample made up of National Fire Academy students N=181 Executive Fire Office Program graduates N=96, and Fire Department Instructors Conference students N=62 all respondents read the original Mayday article and or were given an oral briefing on its contents before answering the survey. The responders ranged from recruit firefighters to fire chiefs, career and volunteer, small rural to large metro.