Mayday 101: Training 0

Mayday 101

There's a lot more to calling a fireground mayday than just picking up the radio and calling for help. It requires knowing when to call, what information to include in the call and what to do after making the call.

Calling a mayday is probably the one fireground skill that every firefighter in every department must perform perfectly 100 percent of the time. That said, many firefighters are unsure how to properly call a mayday because, realistically, they only have to do it once or twice in their careers. Remember: We only get good at something through practice and repetition. That's why it's important to drill on how to call a mayday so your crewmembers know exactly how to best ensure their survival. No firefighter in this country should call for their first mayday at a real incident.

Knowing when to call a mayday is a huge part of the problem. Many firefighters don't call them because they feel their training and experience will get them out of trouble. They also don't want to call a mayday because they don't want to be embarrassed by the fact that they got into trouble on the fireground and had to call for help. Consistent drilling on mayday calls can help overcome both of these stigmas, while also ensuring firefighters follow a standardized format. Many departments find the acronym U-CAN helpful in establishing a standardized mayday format:

U=Unit
C=Conditions
A=Actions
N=Needs

If your department doesn't have a standard operating procedure (SOP) for when and how to call a mayday, as well as a standardized set of actions that firefighters should perform during a mayday, develop them immediately. If you don't believe that a mayday call is one of the most stress-filled events of your life, try Drill No. 1.

 

Drill 1: Mayday Basics

If your department doesn't have a formal mayday SOP, this drill should open your eyes to how hard it is to perform a mayday without the benefit of training and procedures.

Setting: Your station or other large, safe building
Time: 15 minutes
Equipment needed: PPE, SCBA, portable radio and something to obscure the firefighters' facemasks

Step 1: Instruct a firefighter to prepare for the drill by donning PPE, including SCBA and portable radio. Obscure the facemask (use tape, a garbage bag, etc.) and lead them to a large, open area inside the station.

Step 2: Tell the firefighter: "You are in a commercial building under heavy smoke conditions without a hoseline. Take the actions needed to save your life."

Step 3: Instruct another firefighter to play the role of the incident commander (IC). This person should stand out of sight of the disoriented firefighter and communicate with them via radio.

Step 4: Instruct the IC to "prompt" the firefighter with questions such as, "What are you close to? What side of the building are you on?" The point: Watch to see whether the two individuals' communication will lead the mayday firefighter to relay the information a rescue team needs to locate him.

Step 5: Repeat the outlined process with other company members.

Step 6: Review with all the members how well the process worked.

Most likely, this drill will reveal that your members don't know how to call a mayday or what information to give the IC so they can be rescued. Your next step, then, is to spend some classroom time working on the U-CAN report. Also, review the following equipment list and ensure that your members can perform the tasks associated with each.

  • PASS Device: Manually activate and then deactivate your PASS when you need to talk on the radio.
  • Radio: Use your radio while wearing all your PPE, including gloves and SCBA facepiece, and breathing air. Practice the little things, like being on the correct radio channel and not yelling. Note: Consider using a lapel mic. It frees up your hands and can prove critical to mayday communications.
  • Tools: Use tools to tap on walls or doors to help rescuers find you from the outside.

Note: Just covering the skills and actions required of a trapped or disoriented firefighter can take many hours of training. Firefighters must learn these skills prior to being placed in hazardous situations where they may be forced to call a mayday.

 

Drill 2: Mayday Simulation

Once your firefighters are properly trained on how to call a mayday and the skills associated with the mayday event, use this drill to evaluate your mayday training.

Setting: Your station or other large, safe building
Time: 15 minutes
Equipment needed: PPE, SCBA, portable radio and something to obscure the firefighters' facemasks

Step 1: Instruct a firefighter to prepare for the drill by donning PPE, including SCBA and portable radio. Obscure the facemask.

Step 2: With their vision obscured, lead the firefighter to another section of the building where the drill is being conducted.

Step 3: Tell the firefighter: "You are in a commercial building under heavy smoke conditions without a hoseline. Take the actions needed to save your life."

Step 4: Use the following checklist to evaluate each member. Add checklist points based on your department's mayday SOPs and training.
Mayday Checklist

  • Initiated mayday
  • Used U-CAN Report
    U = Units
    C = Conditions
    A = Actions
    N = Needs
  • Activated PASS
  • Turned PASS on and off as needed while using portable radio
  • Turned on flashlight
  • Provided information about their location

This drill also provides a great opportunity for ICs to practice being in the "hot seat," handling a mayday event.

There are many outstanding books, articles and Web sites that deal with maydays and RIT operations to help you develop your own SOPs and training. I recommend Chief Timothy E. Sendelbach's Web site, www.TES2training.comazcuytwzyarauxvvxubdwawzvavfueufxa, and I'd like to thank Chief Sendelbach for the information he provided for this article.

Pennwell