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Trainer’s Corner: Planning for the mayday incident

Incident commanders will face no greater challenge than when the life of a fellow fire fighter lies in the balance. In this part two of two we will discuss perhaps the one fireground incident that will tax your physical and mental limits, a mayday incident.

December 7, 2007
By Ed Brouwer


trainers_10149Incident commanders will face no greater challenge than when the life of a fellow fire fighter lies in the balance. In this part two of two we will discuss perhaps the one fireground incident that will tax your physical and mental limits, a mayday incident.

Upon the receipt of a "Mayday!" transmission, the IC must assume the worst: a fire fighter is trapped or lost. Being prepared for the worst case scenario can make all the difference.

CALL FOR PAR (Personnel Accountability Report)
Calling for an immediate PAR enables the incident commander to quickly and effectively identify the number of personnel involved, the general area of the structure involved, and potentially the extent of the rescue effort. This point cannot be overstated. Until the IC knows exactly how many fire fighters/crews are directly involved (trapped, lost, etc.) he/she cannot properly initiate an effective rescue effort. The PAR enables the IC to potentially reduce the search area, this in turn will help the RIT rescue effort.

Request help early. ICs who fail to request additional assistance early, will find themselves needing to utilize on scene personnel who may have already met or exceeded their personal limitations. RIT deployment and rescue efforts require fire fighters who are at their fullest potential. Fresh personnel throughout are an absolute necessity.


DEPLOY THE RIT (Rapid Intervention team)
The deployment of the RIT should only be done after a quick briefing of the known facts from the IC and/or accountability officer. The success of the RIT rescue operation is solely dependent on time. By properly identifying the last known location, number of personnel and possible situation causing the emergency, the responding RIT personnel can properly prepare themselves for the assignment and ensure the appropriate equipment is deployed.

Training officers must understand the importance of pre-planning. Without question, pre-incident planning can ultimately decide the success or failure of the mayday incident.

Pre-planning can provide fire fighters with life-saving advantages. Case studies have clearly identified that the success or failure of any mayday incident is a direct result of effective incident management and pre-incident planning. It is vital to know who and what we are fighting. Knowing your enemy is a rule every fire fighter and fireground commander should live by.

Indicators that could potentially lead to a mayday incident:

  • Prolonged burn time, continued or heavy fire throughout the structure
  • Smoke showing through walls – extensive structural damage
  • Inadequate ventilation/flammable gas
    accumulations, potential for rapid-fire development
  • Sagging floors, bulging walls, interior collapse – major damage to structural integrity
  • Water seeping out between bricks, excessive water in the building – excessive downward force
  • Two or more floors involved in fire – multi-point structural compromise
  • Unprotected steel – direct flame impingement of structural components, collapse pending

Without question, fireground accountability should be maintained throughout every emergency incident. However, no incident will demand greater accountability than when we are Saving Our Own.

Effective accountability during RIT deployments can be enhanced by establishing restricted entry points. Following the initial PAR, the IC should immediately restrict entry to only those members of the RIT. Upon the request of additional assistance, the IC can then direct the assigned crew to enter the structure. Consideration should be given to placing accountability officers at each entry point to assist with accountability operations while also enforcing the restricted entry request.

As the IC of a mayday incident it's your job to determine to the best or your ability the upcoming needs of the incident. Proper pre-incident planning and well-defined mutual aid or auto aid agreements should be prepared to ensure your requests are met without delay.

Pre-incident planning and a thorough knowledge of your resources will pay huge dividends during these incidents.

Rescuers must be forced to follow the rules of personal safety throughout. Personnel assigned to fire suppression operations must overcome the desire to get involved in the rescue. In order to limit the threat of flame impingement on the trapped or disoriented fire fighters crews must maintain their position. As rescue efforts begin, adrenalin can overrun our ability to think clearly. Guard against becoming a part of the problem.

Although no fire fighter, fire officer or IC ever wants to terminate a rescue effort, fire fighter safety must remain a top priority.

The IC must continually evaluate the risks being encountered by rescue personnel to ensure rescuer safety. As difficult as it may be, the IC must terminate rescue efforts when conditions begin to jeopardize the life safety of the rescuers. No order ever given by the IC will carry equal weight. Yet, decisions of this nature will ultimately decide the number of members lost or injured.

Thank you for giving close consideration to these last two articles.

There may be points we missed, but when I consider the many departments that have no evacuation procedures, let alone any mayday protocols, this is a good start. Until next time, stay safe, and please remember to train your members like their lives depend on it, because they do.

Ed Brouwer is the Fire Chief/Training Officer for Canwest Fire and a member of the Osoyoos (B.C.) Fire Dept. The 18-year veteran fire fighter is also a Fire Warden with Ministry of Forests, a First Responder III instructor/evaluator, Local Assistant to the Fire Commissioner and a fire service motivational speaker and chaplain. E-mail .

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