Responding to a MAYDAY

Let’s face it, you never know when or how it will happen! In fact, when you least expect it. Responding as part of the RIT to a known firefighter MAYDAY will be one of the most stressful situations you’ll ever encounter as a firefighter. All previous training and preparation will be put to the test!

All members must be proficient with the skills used to search for and rescue a firefighter so they can focus on the bigger picture if an actual MAYDAY occurs.

This is what it’s all about, why you’ve done all the training and preparation. A firefighter is trapped, missing, disoriented, or has simply declared a MAYDAY with no additional information. When it happens it won’t be a textbook. What’s important is that the RIT is deployed immediately to begin their search for the firefighter.

Where are you going? Who are you looking for? Where will you enter the building and begin the search? When the RIT is deployed it must get as much information as possible – LUNAR – and, combined with the previous information it has gathered, determine the best entry location. Once determined, the entry location should be announced for Command, other members of the RIT who may have been performing proactive tasks, and additional RITs who will stage at the location awaiting further information.

Once at the entry point the RIT Officer should confirm the team assignments (Navigation/Air, Search, and Packaging) and brief the members on the search plan (initial direction, possible location, knowledge of PASS activation or any radio traffic from the victim, etc). All members should also make a quick check to ensure that all the equipment and tools needed for the search are assembled and ready to go. The Navigation/Air Supply firefighter should secure the tag line to the outside and the RIT Officer should benchmark that the RIT has entered the building.

The time from deployment to entry should be as short as possible. If the team is maintaining a ready-state, staged with the proper tools at the probable entry point, then it’s simply a matter of masking up and starting the search. Remember, the clock is already ticking when the MAYDAY is declared the firefighter’s already in trouble and time is running out.

During the search, maintain composure! Stick to the plan. Perform your assignment. The RIT Officer must determine the direction of travel and type of search to be used this may change throughout the search. In addition, the RIT Officer must benchmark major changes in location (first floor, second floor, and basement). Don’t forget to update Command and keep track of your crew.

The Search firefighters must aggressively search. Don’t become a part of the problem by straying off from the rest of the crew. Be aggressive but be accountable. Search the area, communicate your findings, and move. Remember, you’re searching for a firefighter!

If you’re responsible for Navigation, manage the tag line. Keep the line tight when it’s deployed. If you move in and out of a room then make sure the excess line is picked up and the slack is removed. Don’t make an incoming RIT team follow 200 feet of line to move 70 feet into the building manage the line.

Monitor your air supply individually and as a team. Don’t wait until your low air alarm starts sounding to start paying attention. Depending on where you are in the building you may have just become part of the problem. Call for an additional RIT before you’re running out of air so that they can continue the search without delay.

Searching for, and locating, the firefighter is critical! The rescue can’t start until the search is complete (the firefighter is found). Use any and all techniques available to find the firefighter.

When the firefighter is found it’s time to switch gears from search to rescue. While assessing the firefighter, it’s also important to make a quick assessment of the fire and structural conditions, the RIT, and their air supply.

The RIT Officer should benchmark that the firefighter has been found, announce the RITs current location, request an additional RIT to help with the removal operation, and begin to develop the rescue/removal plan. If additional tools are needed to extricate the firefighter then they should be requested and brought in with the incoming RIT. Another possibility is that a hose line may be needed to protect the firefighter (and RIT) during the extrication/removal. The need for a hose line must be communicated immediately.

The Navigation/Air Supply firefighter, along with one of the Search firefighters (Packaging), should assess the firefighter’s condition and secure his air supply. When the air supply is secured (benchmarked by the RIT Officer) the Navigation firefighter should secure the tag line in the area or hand it off to the RIT Officer to secure. The Packaging firefighter should continue preparing the firefighter for removal (tighten shoulder straps, convert harness, apply sling, etc.).

The other Search firefighter should perform a quick search of the area for any nearby windows or doors that can be used for immediate egress. If a potential exit point is found it should be communicated to the RIT Officer so it can be factored into the rescue/removal plan.

When the firefighter is ready to be removed (packaged, extricated) then it’s time to implement the rescue/removal plan. The RIT Officer should benchmark the intended removal location so that additional help can be assembled. If it’s an extended extrication then the RIT may act as support for a specialty team (collapse, etc.). An additional possibility is that the RIT can prepare an exit location while the specialty team is freeing the firefighter (rope-assisted, exterior wall breach, etc.).

When the firefighter is on the way out (the rescue is under way) the RIT Officer must maintain control and discipline within the rescue team. Frustration will be high, adrenaline flowing, and tempers short not to mention the fatigue so clear communication and direction is a must.

If the rescue/removal plan calls for the firefighter to be removed along the tag line then the RIT Officer maintains the line behind the other RIT members as they remove the firefighter (drag, carry, etc.). The RIT Officer will be the last one out keeping the line tight to provide the shortest and most direct route to the exit.

If the rescue/removal plan calls for the firefighter to be removed following a different route or through a nearby window or door then the tag line should be extended until the exit location is reached. At this point, the tag line may be deployed and managed by the RIT Officer or the Navigation firefighter (depending on his involvement in the actual removal process).
The RIT Officer should benchmark when the firefighter has been removed from the building and that the RIT team is accounted for.


Confirm the MAYDAY information – LUNAR
Confirm assignments
Recall additional members who may be performing proactive tasks
Announce the entry location
Use a RIT tag line and attach it outside

Have a plan and follow it
Communicate findings/location
Bring the right equipment
Search for a firefighter (it’s different than a civilian search!)
Monitor interior conditions
Monitor air supply
Don’t become part of the problem
Call for additional resources before needed
Use any and all techniques to FIND the firefighter

Notify Command/Rescue
Call for an additional RIT
Assess the firefighter
Assess the conditions
Assess the RIT members
Secure the firefighter’s air supply
Develop the rescue/removal plan
Determine the best removal location
Package the firefighter for removal
Rescue/remove the firefighter
Update Command/Rescue of progress


Nothing can prepare you for the actual conditions and stress that will accompany a lost, missing, or distressed firefighter emergency on the fireground. The fireground will be chaotic to say the least! Discipline, developed through previous training and preparation, will play a role in the overall success of the mission.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Blog Information

FE Talk: Humpday Hangout

Upcoming Courses

APRIL 2015

Engine Company Ops I

April 19-21, 2015

Truck Company Ops I

April 19-21, 2014

Designing, Construction, & Operating Container-Based Training Props

April 19-21, 2015

FireEMS Blogs eNewsletter

Sign-up to receive our free monthly eNewsletter