By Keith Padgett
Published Sunday, May 1, 2011
| From the May 2011 Issue of FireRescue
There’s no call more challenging to fireground operations than a mayday call—the unthinkable moment when a firefighter’s personal safety is in imminent danger.
Firefighters don’t plan on being lost, disoriented, injured or trapped during at an emergency incident. But fires are unpredictable, volatile and ruthless—and they will not always go according to your plans. What a firefighter knows about a fire before entering a blazing building may radically change within minutes once they are inside the structure. Smoke, low visibility, lack of oxygen, structural instability and an unpredictable fireground can cause even the most seasoned firefighter to become overwhelmed in an instant. Clearly, it’s not a matter of if the mayday happens, but rather when.
When Things Go Wrong
Firefighter fatality data compiled by the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) show that firefighters who become trapped and disoriented represent the largest portion of structural fireground fatalities. And the incidents in which firefighters have lost their lives, or lived to tell about being trapped, share a common theme: inadequate situational awareness, which put the firefighters at greater risk.
For decades, the guiding fire service philosophy has focused on training for success—we teach firefighters how to put out the fire or mitigate other hazards and hope everyone goes home. What we haven’t done consistently is drill on what to do when failure does occur.
From the first-in recruit to the experienced commanding officer, all levels of staff must have the step-by-step tools to use, whether they are caught in the mayday or leading the rescue. Further, a safe fireground is maintained only when firefighters can perform instinctively during a mayday situation.
2011 Safety Week
The Fire/EMS Safety, Health and Survival Week (Safety Week) is a key step in mitigating the inherent risks of the fireground. The theme for this year’s Safety Week is “Surviving the Fire Ground: Fire Fighter, Fire Officer & Command Preparedness.” This week (June 19–25) should be dedicated to developing and enhancing the much-needed skills of surviving a mayday event, as well as other hazards on the fireground.
Fire departments are encouraged to suspend all non-emergency activity during Safety Week and instead focus entirely on survival training and education until all personnel have taken part. Following are training sessions you may want to schedule for this week:
- Take the online IAFF Fire Ground Survival course (www.iaff.org/hs/fgs/FGS_CandidateGuide.htm). Topics include preventing the mayday, being ready for the mayday, self-survival procedures, self-survival skills and firefighter expectations of command.
- Search near-miss reports (www.firefighternearmiss.com) for the keywords “fireground” and “situational awareness” and discuss them with your crew.
- Discuss the concepts presented in the Crew Resource Management Manual (http://tinyurl.com/crm-manual).
Additional training ideas and resources are available on the Safety Week website (www.iafc.org/safetyweek).
Fires will always be unpredictable and dangerous, and a lack of situational awareness can mean disaster on the fireground. Also, and perhaps most importantly, don’t assume that a mayday couldn’t happen to you or to someone at your department. It can happen—to a rookie or to your most seasoned crewmembers—and the only thing that will prepare you for this unthinkable moment is training.
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