Features, Firefighter Training

Firefighter Basics: Calling the Mayday

Firefighters pull a down firefighter through the floor using a hoseline

On the fireground, communications can be overwhelming with radio chatter coming in from everybody to the incident commander (IC). What can be frustrating and trying at times is trying to get your message across and being blocked or cut off by other radio transmissions or not being heard at all. There is a lot of noise on the fireground that can sometimes drown out radio messages.

his can be especially true for when a Mayday must be called. Declaring a Mayday is done for three main reasons: Firefighters are lost or trapped, injured, or are missing/unaccounted for. When you hear a Mayday being called, it is specifically for a firefighter and nothing else. All other transmissions can be used with an “urgent” message.

When declaring a Mayday, be sure to get the attention of the IC first before saying the message – if the IC did not hear the Mayday, then they will not hear your message. Once the IC acknowledges your Mayday call, then you know that you have their full attention and they will receive your message. 

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Another way to ensure your Mayday message gets the attention of all is to hold the radio mic open and hold it to the personal alert safety system (PASS) alarm going off. The sound of the PASS alarm will get everybody’s attention and will allow you to get your priority message through. Hold the open mic to the PASS alarm for about five seconds, turn off the PASS alarm, then declare your Mayday. If the PASS alarm is going off in the background, it will hinder the communication of the Mayday transmission.                             

Equipment needed: SCBA, full structural firefighting gear, portable radio

Goal: To practice and become familiar with declaring a Mayday.   

Drill:

  1. While fully donned in structural personal protective equipment (PPE) and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), the firefighter will go on air.
  2. The firefighter will then declare a Mayday using the portable radio.
  3. The word “Mayday” is to be repeated three times.
  4. The firefighter will wait for the IC to acknowledge their Mayday.
  5. Once acknowledged, the firefighter will deliver their Mayday message using their department’s protocol (LUNAR, who I am, what happened and what I need, etc.)
  6. The firefighter will then turn on their PASS alarm after the Mayday message
  7. Repeat the drill, but instead of the above, the firefighter will turn on their PASS alarm and hold the open radio mic to it for five seconds.
  8. The firefighter will then turn off the PASS alarm and then declare Mayday three times.
  9. Repeat steps 4-6.

Key points:

  1. When declaring a Mayday, wait to be acknowledged by the IC before giving the Mayday message
  2. Become familiar with turning on and off the PASS alarm of the SCBA that is being used.
  3. Practice declaring a Mayday in different positions and in different scenarios (such as a collapse, entangled, etc.)

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Mark van der Feyst

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1999 and is a full-time firefighter in Ontario, Canada. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States, and India, and at FDIC. Van der Feyst is a local level suppression instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy. He is also the lead author of Residential Fire Rescue (Fire Engineering Books & Video).

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