By Daniel P. Sheridan
The other night I came into work an hour early, a usual, to have some time to get myself ready for the night tour, have a cup of coffee in the kitchen, and see how things have been going for the past few days. When I entered quarters, I saw a cache of burnt tools and air cylinders by the front door waiting to be picked up by the tool room for replacement. I knew that they must have had a big fire. This winter in New York has been particularly brutal; we have had numerous snow storms and lots of days of, as the weather people on the news like to say, “wild weather.” This particular day was another day of very high winds with gusts up to 40 miles per hour. I entered the kitchen, grabbed a cup of coffee, sat down, and picked up the newspaper. I overheard the firefighters talking about the third-alarm the night before. Something that one of the firefighters said caught my attention. The firefighter who was assigned the outside vent position gave a very interesting transmission over his radio: He radioed to his officer that he was not able to get out the way he came in.
When I have been in very tight spots in the past, my first reaction is denial, it’s not that bad. Sometimes there is no time at all. Twice as a young firefighter I was caught in a flashover and I barely had time to get out of the room I was in, let alone give the Mayday (besides, we didn’t have personal radios back then). Things can happen with lightning speed at a fire; one second you are fine and then before you know it you are scrambling for the door. I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard some one saying after a good fire, “Wow, you can’t believe how lucky I was I almost ________ (fill in the blank).”
It is suggested to give a Mayday for the following situations (but not limited to these situations):
- Collapse Imminent
- Collapse Occurred
- Unconscious Firefighter
- Missing Member
- Firefighter Lost or Trapped
The department in the future will probably assign a RIT task force to handle the Mayday instead of just one unit made up of an engine, ladder, and a battalion chief. Having a separate task force ready to handle a Mayday will relieve the burden of the IC from getting overloaded dealing with a very stressful situation while trying to still maintain control of the incident at hand. I have heard it said somewhere that if you get in a bad situation and hesitate too long, it may already be too late. If you are wondering if you should give a Mayday, then you probably should.
DANIEL SHERIDAN is a 24-year veteran of the Fire Department of New York and a covering battalion chief in the First Division. He is a national instructor II and a member of the FDNY IMT. Sheridan founded Mutual Aid Americas, which works with fire departments in Latin America.