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Videos: 2 critical factors that affect every mayday event

A Nashua, N.H., mayday underscores the importance of a quick mayday call and swift RIT response


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On Dec. 9, 2021, a Nashua firefighter fell through the floor while fighting a house fire in Hudson, New Hampshire. This news story has a happy ending because the firefighter was rescued and removed from the structure. He was taken to hospital and is doing well, having sustained only minor injuries.

The firefighter was rescued because of two factors: His ability to declare a mayday and the swift response to the mayday.

Calling a mayday – do not delay!

The power of the mayday starts with the individual – having the ability and humility to call one.

For review, a mayday call is always reserved for a firefighter who needs help. Whether they are trapped, injured or lost, they can use this term over the radio to alert others that a firefighter needs help. It is the firefighter’s 911 call while on scene doing their job.

The Nashua firefighter called a mayday as soon as he realized that he was in trouble – in this case falling through a floor due to deteriorating structural conditions. From what we can tell from the on-scene reports, there was no hesitation in calling for a mayday. This shows quick thinking from the firefighter as well as a humble spirit to acknowledge that he needed help from other firefighters. Every firefighter needs to follow the example set by this incident in respect to calling a mayday as quickly as possible when they need help.

[Listen next: Firefighters need to move beyond the fear of defeatism for calling a mayday ‘too early’]

Swift response

The second factor is the swift response of personnel to the rescue – in this case from the on-site rapid-intervention team (RIT). As soon as the mayday was called, the RIT was activated to go inside and rescue the firefighter. Even though there was an on-site RIT, it is not just up to them to assist in the rescue or to perform it. Every firefighter on scene is a potential RIT firefighter. Depending on where each person is working and located, they may be right at the same location or nearby to effect the rescue quickly. The RIT has to enter the structure and make their way to the downed firefighter, whereas other assigned firefighters nearby may be able to quickly assist.

In the Nashua case, the mayday firefighter was located quickly because of the hoseline that he was holding. A hoseline was also used to rescue him from the floor below – a simple but effective solution to the problem.

The domino effect of events in this situation could have led to a disastrous outcome had these two important factors not been handled so well. A delayed mayday call would have meant no RIT activation, nor other firefighters on site knowing about the need for the quick rescue. The downed firefighter could have been trapped in the floor below for a considerable period – and the outcome would have been a lot worse than minor injuries.

Training time

After watching these videos and reading this news story with your company, a department can do the following:

  • Review/practice the tactical skill of removing a firefighter from the floor below using a charged hoseline.
  • Review/practice the department procedure for calling a mayday using a portable radio.

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1998, currently serving as a firefighter with the Fort Gratiot Fire Department in Michigan. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States and India. He graduated from Seneca College of Applied and Technologies as a fire protection engineering technologist, and received his bachelor’s degree in fire and life safety studies from the Justice Institute of British Columbia and his master’s degree in safety, security and emergency management from Eastern Kentucky University. van der Feyst is the lead author of the book “Residential Fire Rescue” and “The Tactical Firefighter.” Connect with van der Feyst via email.