"Tricks of the Trade" and some other stuff …

We’re on the 2nd half of an Easter Sunday tour.

It’s been a beautiful, peaceful and quiet day here at “Lucky #13” and I’m hoping it remains that way.

I hope you folks have enjoyed the same and that the Easter Bunny found his way to all of you…

I’m still looking for him .. her … them .. LOL

Talk about your Peter “Cotton Tail” … WOW! Somehow, I don’t remember the Easter Bunny looking anything like either of these two when I was a kid… hummmmm

Anyway, it goes without saying  but in my earlier post today; I forgot to say “Thank You” to all of you Brothers and Sisters out there pulling a tour today. I hope you have a safe one!

I’ve spent most of the day catching up on emails,paper work,  reading etc. When I do that, I often find several topics or subjects that I think would make a good “post” here on the site. Today,  “MayDay” keeps coming to the surface.

Thanks to a suggestion by Burnt Chimney Vol. Fire Department’s Lt. Lee Powel, I started a little segment called “Tricks of the Trade” a while back. Just little” tidbits” or suggestions that I have found useful or helpful throughout my career. My latest dealt with  ” RIT  Tips ” while the post  ” Get your own water” could also be considered a “Trick of the Trade”. They are never in any kind of order nor are they presented as a formal “class” (although formal classes are available through Ironfiremen.com).

As I mentioned, today the term  “MAYDAY” seems to keep popping up so I decided to hit a few points. I could talk (type) for days on “MAYDAY”. There are several different approaches such as  “WHEN”  and  “HOW” to call MAYDAY.  I’ll briefly hit both …

Photo by Lt. Mike Overacker (Ret.)

A while back, my Department acquired a large commercial structure to use for training purposes. Our Training Division went in and set up several scenarios to offer “MAYDAY” training to every company in the City (Salem and Roanoke County also used the building).

They built a few “props” which turned out to be quite effective . They were easy and affordable to build and could be used in or outdoors. There’s no reason why your Department or Station couldn’t have one sitting out back right now.

Photo by Lt. Mike Overacker (Ret.)

The most effective prop for us was the collapsing floor.

The scenario was that you were following the hose line (for whatever reason .. searching, moving to back up etc). The line made its way around several obstacles and eventually up a stairway. After reaching the top, you started down what seemed to be a hallway (the drill was done with our face pieces blackened out).

After making it only a few feet down the hallway, the floor collapses beneath you. It actually collapses!

It should be noted that for safety reasons in this scenario, they did not allow us to carry a tool (fearing how we might land on it etc).  

You can’t tell from the photo (right) but as soon as the firefighter reached the edge (note his right hand) and realized he was at a “hole” or drop off, they “pulled the trigger” releasing the floor.

Photo by Lt. Mike Overacker (Ret.)


It was totally unexpected by the firefighter and you felt as if you were falling forever!

VERY realistic without all of the trauma etc associated with such a fall  (we landed in a box full of  foam “noodles”).

The purpose of the drill was to test the effectiveness of how the member transmitted the MAYDAY after the collapse / fall.

You’d be shocked at some of the results found over those several days of training.

There are certain key elements that a firefighter in distress must communicate to the IC (Incident Commander) but it doesn’t always happen as it should. You would think that by now, 2011;  it would be 2nd nature but it isn’t.

Photo by Lt. Mike Overacker (Ret.)


I recently listened in amazement  horror as a special guest Captain Michael Long of the Camp Taylor (Ky) Fire Protection District explained how he “didn’t have time” to call a  “MAYDAY” ! Read the pre-show advertisements and Bio’s from The Company Officer  HERE . You can also listen to the show from “Taking it to the Streets” on Firefighter Netcast  HERE .

Although Chris Naum’s show that night was more focused on the Near Miss Reporting System, I couldn’t get that one sentence from Captain Long’s interview out of my mind .. he didn’t “have time”. With all due respect, I think the Captain was lucky.

I would argue that the minute (or less) that it takes to transmit the “MAYDAY” just may be the most important minute of your life. When a firefighter is in trouble, we’re in BIG trouble. When we need /call for help, we need it BAD and QUICK. That said, I want everyone involved knowing EXACTLY  WHO I am … WHEREI am and WHAT’s wrong (as well as what they may need to help me .. equipment etc).

Photo by Lt. Mike Overacker (Ret.)


That gets me back to the RIT / MAYDAY training.

After the members took their fall in the floor collapse prop, the focus became “calling a MAYDAY”. Here are the steps we use …

Our first step is to activate the “Emergency button” on our portable radio. Every member should know where their Emergency button is located and should be able to activate it blindly with a gloved hand.

Next, the member should take a deep breath, relax (as mush as you can in this situation), get oriented and think about what you are about to say (transmit). You want the IC to know WHO you are, WHERE you are (or where you last were) and WHATs wrong. It should sound something like this …. “MAYDAY.. MAYDAY ..MAYDAY. This is Captain Wines, Engine company #13 assigned to Division 2. I was operating in Division 2, Charlie quadrant. I have fallen through the floor at the top of the steps. I believe I am now located on the 1st floor or basement. I am separated from my crew, low on air, disoriented and injured. I need assistance getting out”.

This transmission should then be repeated. After you receive confirmation that your message has been received, you should follow up with “I am now activating my PASS”.

Maybe not a “text book” transmission but one with some much needed information. I’ve painted a pretty good picture for the IC and RIT which just increased my chances for survival.

On another of Chris Naum’s sites, Command Safety ; I recently listened to an incident where a firefighter from Taftville, CT.  fell partially through the floor and a MAYDAY was transmitted.

Chris’ take on this incident was directed towards the compromised floor assembly but I focused in on the MAYDAY transmission. Listen to audio and the actual MAYDAY as well as read more on the incident and floor assembly compromise  HERE.

 What do you think? Did the MAYDAY  “paint” a clear picture in your mind? Would you have known who was in trouble from your “accountability board”? Did you know this firefighters location? Was it clear what resources needed deployed?

Again, we have several directions we can go from here. What even constitutes a MAYDAY? Does your Department have SOP’s / SOG’s that out line what is or isn’t a MAYDAY?

Who can call a MAYDAY? Does every member on your rig have an assigned radio?

Are your members ready and prepared to call a “MAYDAY”?  By that, I mean will they?  The decision of whether or not to call a MAYDAY is made at the stations .. not on the fire scene. It’s a mind set developed through training. I often refer to an early article entitled “MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY”  by Burton A. Clark on Firehouse.com (it’s worth the read).

What happens “after” you transmit the Mayday? Do ya sit tight and wait for the Calvary or do you try to find your way out? ( That can go either way and can also depend on how much air you have left. I do recommend finding a wall if you are able. If you find a wall, sooner or later, you’ll find a door or window but all movement should be transmitted to the IC .. otherwise RIT is chasing a moving target).

So, today’s “Trick of the Trade” is training for “calling the Mayday”. Have your members practice it.. OFTEN.  You don’t need the fancy mock floor collapse props (although they are inexpensive and easy to build for in or outdoor use). I often use the scenario Chesterfield, Va. used for there promotion testing back around 2000 – 2001 ( found in the above link to Burton A. Clark’s “MAYDAY..MAYDAY..MAYDAY). Of course, I mold the scenario to my needs and add my little “twists” if you will. I mentioned  that drill in previous posts  HERE  and  HERE .

If nothing else, maybe this post will spark a little discussion around the coffee table on how to call the MAYDAY. Ok moving on real quick .. I want to give a “shout out” and mention one of the newer members to the Fire/EMS Blogs Network  family… ParaPup.

This gal is pretty cool and I like her style. She calls here latest post a “public service announcement” but I know it’s actually more than that.

It’s a post on mustaches. Of course she mentions me (although I was never officially interviewed for the piece) in the post which even contains a picture of Ron Jeremy. Wait … is she putting me and “the hedge hog” in the same category?? Hummmm …LMAO.

Anyway, today; ParaPup  sent me a video about mustaches (she said in her post that she DIDN’T have mustache envy … ” In the event Captain Wines of Iron Firemen finds his way to this post, I’d like to go on record saying that I in no way, shape, or form have mustache envy. My informal polls proved pretty much unanimously that women with mustaches are not well received.” ..I think she does .. lol )

So, the video is funny as crap but contains some adult language.  So, there’s your  WARNING… do NOT view this video if such language may get you in trouble (ie: at the station / work) or if it may be offensive to you. That said, the language really isn’t that bad and it IS funny as hell … thanks to ParaPup for thinking of me and sharing. Enjoy..

That’s a wrap for tonight .. Stay Safe and in House!

Captain Wines