Is there such a thing? A “Minor” Mayday. [tweet this] A crew operating in an IDLH environment suddenly find themselves in a tough spot because _____ (you insert the reason). The crew leader’s situational awareness is, at least at that moment, strong as he or she immediately realizes the potential gravity of the situation and calls a Mayday. Command acknowledges the Mayday and the rapid intervention team (RIT) is called into action. But before the RIT fully deploys, something unexpected happens.
The Mayday is cancelled by the crew that called it. The cancellation is followed with “We’re OK. Disregard the Mayday.” The RIT stands down and everything returns to normal. The officer who called the Mayday feels embarrassed because the situation so quickly rectified and what appeared to be an issue of significant potential consequence turned out to be non-eventful.
How this fire department handles the debriefing, assuming they even hold one, is of vital importance to the self-esteem of the person who called the Mayday and to the confidence others may someday have to call a Mayday when they find themselves in a tight spot.
Some critics on the department will question whether the event even qualified as a Mayday. Other critics will question whether the member overreacted by calling the Mayday in the first place. Some may even call into question the department’s training practices and how the training on Mayday operations has resulted in firefighters being over zealous to call Maydays unnecessarily. (On a side note… I cannot tell you why, but some firefighters look for fault and blame like they’re going to get a reward when they find it.)
The firefighter who transmitted the Mayday made the right call. If a crew feels their well being is in jeopardy, a quick assessment and a rapid Mayday transmission ensures the activation of help, hopefully through an adequately staffed and adequately trained rapid intervention team. The reason for the Mayday should be explored through a post incident evaluation and the entire organization should benefit from the lessons.
Some time ago I had an opportunity to talk with a fire chief who had a firefighter fall through a floor and called a Mayday. The firefighter was quickly located by other firefighters who were working in the basement and he was taken outside. His injuries were very minor and the chief downplayed the event as a non-event, almost appearing embarrassed that his department had a Mayday called in the first place. Further inquiry revealed little was done to extract and share the lessons from the event and it seemed as though the firefighter who called the Mayday was admonished for being on the spongy floor and falling through in the first place.
Chief Gasaway’s Advice
Getting a firefighter beyond the fear and embarrassment of calling a Mayday is a significant hurdle that departments must acknowledge and overcome. [tweet this] This problem can be compounded when firefighters convince themselves the problem isn’t that bad and they can work through it without having to call a Mayday. If the problem continues to worsen (and sometimes it worsens quickly) the situation may rapidly escalate to the point where the rapid intervention team’s success will be challenged. Once the window of survive-ability closes (something I talk about during every Mental Management of Emergencies program), no amount of resources are going to be able to change the outcome and there will be a firefighter fatality.
It is very important for departments to:
- Develop a comprehensive Mayday and rapid intervention policy.
- Train all firefighters, officers and commanders on how and when to call a Mayday and what everyone’s role will be during a Mayday.
- Practice calling Maydays over the radio, preferably while having the firefighters in a simulated high-stress situation.
- Discuss scenarios where Maydays would be appropriate and how much time a firefighter should let pass before calling a Mayday.
- Discuss how fellow firefighters should react to a “Minor” Mayday that resolves quickly (Hint: With praise and acknowledgement for the right decision made).
- Does your department have a comprehensive Mayday and rapid intervention policy?
- Are your members well-trained and well-practiced for what to do during a Mayday?
- Have you ever had a “Minor” Mayday? And if so, how did the members not directly involved in it react?
- Have you ever had a scenario where a Mayday should have been called but, for whatever reason, was not called or was delayed?
The mission of Situational Awareness Matters is simple: Help first responders see the bad things coming… in time to change the outcome.
Safety begins with SA!
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