This week’s topic, chosen in support of the 2011 Fire/EMS Safety, Health and Survival Week, is “Preventing the Mayday.” It focuses on reports dealing with situational awareness, incident planning, the value of proper size-up and shifting to or selecting defensive operations as a strategy to keep firefighters out of needless harm. Our featured report should be used in conjunction with other reports on the 2011 Fire/EMS Safety, Health and Survival Week section of the Resources Page.
“…dispatched at 1245 hours to a structure fire…Upon arriving on scene, moderate smoke was visible with no flame…A small amount of fire was showing from Side B near the kitchen area. A handline was ordered into place on Side A and waited for ventilation to take place…a window on Side B was ventilated releasing smoke and fire…a RIT line had already been put in place. The attack crew then entered the structure on Side A. Then words came across the radio, ‘We are backing out, too much fire, and heat.’…Fire was pushing violently out of Side A as flashover conditions followed…ventilated two more windows on Side B, hoping to relieve more heat and smoke…another attack attempt was made…A second retreat by the attack team was necessary however, as flashover conditions again followed the attack crew out of Side A…The RIT line was put in place to protect firefighters exiting the structure. Attack crews were then changed out and another window was ventilated on the A/B side…As we went through the Side A door, we made an immediate left into the bedroom and encountered heavy fire conditions. We immediately tried to control the ceiling and drive the fire back to the seat, flowing 200 gpm. It was not working. The fire was simply eating up our fire stream. We retreated back to the Side A door with the fire chasing us out…the RIT line was put into place helping us retreat…six windows ventilated…re-entered the structure advancing to the same bedroom as before, this time gaining some excellent knockdown. We began to see sunlight coming through the windows and smoke and steam exiting out of the ventilated windows as we were knocking down the fire. As we progressed toward the seat of the fire, and to our amazement, a huge plume of black smoke again enveloped us with conditions deteriorating fast. We applied water to the ceiling, but were met with tremendous heat and smoke…Fire was coming out of the Side A door and had us trapped. I then realized we were going to have to bail out Side B windows if we were going to make it…”
Discussions of fire attack often describe fire behavior with phrases like, “pushing violently,” “heavy fire conditions,” “conditions deteriorating fast,” “tremendous heat and smoke,” and “to our amazement.” The next action plan a firefighter is faced to formulate is the survival action plan. When firefighters become trapped in buildings and have to call a mayday, it is frequently noted that they underestimated or incorrectly forecasted what the fire was doing or how quickly it was advancing. The best way to avoid a mayday is to ensure everyone is paying attention to the situation and conditions. Maintaining an up to the minute awareness of surroundings is paramount when discussions arise about how best to protect a firefighter in a mayday situation. There are a wide variety of techniques and training a firefighter can undertake to protect themselves. Ultimately, if we can prevent the mayday through teaching firefighters to pay closer attention to their surroundings, they will be out of the building and harm’s way before the RIT is activated. Once you have read the entire account (CLICK HERE), and read the related reports, consider the following:
1. During your last mayday drill, how much time was spent on reviewing “watch out” signs that would warn you to leave the structure before the situation became untenable?
2. Have you been “surprised” by a change in fire conditions at a structure? If yes, relay what happened to your colleagues. Include any knowledge you gained from the situation that has kept you out of harm’s way since.
3. What, in your opinion, causes firefighters to overlook or ignore the warning signs of a potentially injurious or lethal encounter with fire?4. During your last structure fire, how would you describe the conditions? Is everyone who was with you in agreement with your assessment? If yes, why? If no, why?
5. Describe the mayday parameters for your department. How many of the parameters can be avoided by maintaining good situational awareness, conducting a proper size-up, and making an accurate prediction of where the fire is going?
The 2011 Fire/EMS Safety, Health and Survival Week shifts focus from our normal day to day operations to a concentrated emphasis on strategies and actions to avoid needless injury and death. Approach training as if your life depends on it, including recognizing signs and symptoms of deteriorating conditions before they become overwhelming.
Note: The questions posed by the reviewers are designed to generate discussion and thought in the name of promoting firefighter safety. They are not intended to pass judgment on the actions and performance of individuals in the reports.