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...


A significant challenge to firefighters under IDLH conditions is carbon monoxide affecting their judgment, motor skills, and sensory perception. In addition the environmental conditions smoke, heat, gases, and structural stability can change very fast and become deadly. The rapid intervention team takes time to rescue a firefighter; the window of survivability can be small.

The same 10 factors that cause pilots to fail or delay ejection may apply to firefighters failing or delaying to call mayday. Is it better for 100 firefighters to call mayday and not need it, then one firefighter not to call mayday and need it? By reacting to decision parameters a firefighters perceived need for help is eliminated from their decision-making process. For example, if you fall through a floor you may not be injured, there may be no fire or smoke, you may be able to get up and walk right out of the building. The condition of falling through the floor is not normal something has gone wrong, your judgment is impacted on and the event may be fatal. Calling mayday immediately is the only 100% correct response and that still does not insure survivability.

The fire service has rules to protect us: wear you seat belt, stop at red lights, wear you SCBA, use BSI, have a backup spotter. We do not rely on the firefighter's perceived need to comply with the rule or experience of the consequences to comply with the rule. Firefighters are expected to follow the rules and we hold them accountable. No one gets in trouble for following the rules. What are the rules for calling Mayday?

The purpose of this article is to generate discussion and research on fire service Mayday doctrine. The questions we need to answer are: 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?

When would you call MAYDAY? That is a good question to ask all the firefighters in your department. Let us know if they all get the answer 100% CORRECT.

Steven Auch, Captain Indianapolis FD & Raul Angulo, Captain Seattle FD contributed their knowledge and expertise to this article


Dr. Burton A. Clark, EFO is the Management Science Program Chair for the National Fire Academy and Director of an Emergency Support at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. . Burt writes and lectures nationally on fire service research and professional development. If you would like to contact Burton, he can be reached at burton@firehousezone.com