There are probably no more terrifying words at an emergency scene than these three. Firefighters immediately look around, or feel around, to see if everyone is there that’s supposed to be. Company officers check to see if their entire crew is present and where they are supposed to be. After the initial shock of hearing the call, the Safety Officer and Accountability Officer begin going through mental checklists to make sure they have everything covered. The assigned Rapid Intervention Team (RIT), (you do have one assigned right?), begins checking equipment and prepares to enter the structure. The Incident Commander (IC) knows from the second he hears the call that he has to remain calm, cool, and maintain a good command presence as this shows confidence in his actions. After acknowledging the MAYDAY, the IC will begin to follow the departments SOG’s and begin to manage the MAYDAY call..
After the initial actions, the IC should request a Personnel Accountability Report (PAR) to ensure everyone is accounted for. It is a good idea to get another alarm responding to the scene. If it’s not included in the next alarm, request another EMS unit also. We all know it’s better to turn units around than to call for them. It is also a good idea to assemble a second RIT to back up the first. The IC has to also maintain operational continuity. Fire suppression operations must continue as those very actions may be keeping the troubled firefighter alive. One important step for the IC is to delegate the RIT functions to another command officer. There are those who believe they can perform both operations, but in this type of emergency, one should not attempt to serve two masters.
History shows that MAYDAYs normally occur in the first ten minutes of fire scene operations. What this shows is that it is typically (not always) a firefighter(s) from the first arriving units on the scene or one of the first crews to enter a structure. This illustrates the importance to listen and maintain radio communications at the scene or while enroute to the scene.
The IC should perform a face to face with the command officer in charge of the RIT. Make sure all of the information that is needed by the RIT is transferred to the RIT command officer. If possible designate a separate radio channel just for the RIT and have someone at the Command Post monitor that channel while the IC continues suppression operations. Hopefully, in the end, the RIT will communicate good news and everything will return to normal chaos.
The single most important step in the MAYDAY process is training and planning before a MAYDAY happens. It should always be taken seriously and the importance of a RIT should be reinforced at every opportunity. Because of the training you have had, if a MAYDAY call comes across your radio, your first thought should be, “We can handle this”!
Remember to stay safe and “Everyone Goes Home”.
William Jolley has 37 years of experience in the fire service with 20 of those years in a management position. William was the Fire Chief of Haines City, Florida, a city of Approximately 20,000. Prior to that William was the Assistant Chief of Saint Petersburg, Florida, where he worked for 35 years.