Expert: Knowing When to Call Mayday is Vital

National Fire Academy Instructor Burt Clark says firefighters can't afford to take their time.


EMMITSBURG, MD -- Surviving the fire ground is the theme of Safety, Health and Survival week that begins today.

Safety Week Coverage

Safety Week is a collaborative program sponsored by the IAFC and IAFF, in partnership with more than 20 national fire service organizations. Fire departments are encouraged to suspend non-emergency activity in order to focus on safety, health and wellness-related education.

"It's essential that firefighters know when to call Mayday," said Burt Clark, a longtime instructor at the National Fire Academy.

Some firefighters, however, don't call for help when things are going south.

"They fear ridicule from peers or sanctions from officers," Clark said. "They're afraid that others will make fun of them, and tease them that they can't handle it."

Clark stresses that firefighters can't afford to take their time to make the declaration, and get things in motion.

"There's no time to wait. If things are going bad, and they don't call, the building is going to kill them."

Knowing when to call Mayday must be stressed in the very first firefighting class students take, and emphasized in follow-up training.

"It's a macho thing. Some feel they don't want to give up. What they need to know is that it's OK to call Mayday so they can come back and fight another day."

Knowing when to call for help is a skill, one that many rarely use. But, Clark said it's one that crews need to practice and drill.

"When you don't use a skill you loose it. This is one they can't afford to."

He said fighter pilots are instructed to eject before it's too late. "That's what I teach people. Don't wait until it's too late. We need you to get out. Your family needs you to make it out."

A free CD chock-full of information about Mayday is available through the USFA publications office, titled "Calling the Mayday: Hands-On Training for Firefighters." Since it is not copyrighted, it can be shared, Clark said. It can be obtained via https://www.usfa.dhs.gov/applications/publications/.

The course has been translated into a number of languages as well. "It's been used by firefighters around the world," Clark said.

In addition, the IAFF Fire Ground Survival (FGS) program is available and open to all members of the fire service. It's available at http://www.iaff.org/hs/fgs/fgsindex.htm.

Clark likened proficiency in calling for Mayday to buckling up.

"Buckling your seat belt every time you go out the door and being confident you know when to call a Mayday are self-preservation initiatives."