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How to introduce new members to mayday training

Four simple steps to teach rookies about the seriousness of mayday incidents


“While we need to equip all of our members to respond to our citizens on the worst day of their lives, we must also prepare our members to be able to take care of themselves and each other on their worst day,” writes Neal.

Photo/Drew Neal

This article was originally published in the digital edition “The Mayday Training Evolution.” Download the full edition for more mayday content.

Getting a job as a firefighter is a daunting process. From the fire academy and medical certifications to the application process, interviews and physical agility testing, prospective members must work to prove their mettle. And when they are hired on, they face the intimidating reality of being on their game 24/7, all while chomping at the bit to get that first fire.

For some new firefighters, there may also be that little bit of fear or hesitation. They have heard about firefighter fatalities and injuries, and of course the infamous mayday. There is nothing better than quality training and mentorship to alleviate the worries that a new hire might have regarding getting injured, or worse, while on the job.

While a mayday situation might seem like a far-fetched nightmare for some, the truth of the matter is that there is a very real risk of being in a situation that necessitates calling a mayday, and it is up to the senior staff to prepare their newest members. While we need to equip all of our members to respond to our citizens on the worst day of their lives, we must also prepare our members to be able to take care of themselves and each other on their worst day.

Step 1: Lay the groundwork

What is the best way for us, as leaders and instructors, to convey the importance of self-survival, mayday and RIT operations to our newest members? In reality, this messaging should start before they are ever hired. It starts with department culture.

Every department should have a culture of safety that allows members to be aggressive to an acceptable degree. The notion that aggressive means freelancing is simply inaccurate. There is a difference between a tactician with sound decision-making and a cowboy operating on the fireground like it is the wild west. An aggressive, methodical and well-trained firefighter is safer than a timid (or overly confident), unmotivated recliner-riding firefighter.

Bottom line: If we establish that culture and mentality from the get-go, then we are bringing new members into a well-thought-out and defined environment where the risks have already been calculated, and we know how to maneuver them.

Step 2: Start in the training room

Many fire academies spend limited time on mayday operations and self-survival, or they hit on only textbook solutions. While there is nothing wrong with that textbook learning, coupling this learning with on-the-job training is the best way to instill the lessons. It is the job of the senior members to introduce new members to as many forms of learning as possible, including means of survival.

This introduction starts in the training room. This environment offers the perfect setting to captivate new members and establish the seriousness of what you are teaching them. By reviewing the policies and procedures, worksheets, equipment and historical data, such as NIOSH reports, this is your opportunity to tee-up the practical, hands-on training that comes next. This is a great place to teach them that most mayday situations are resolved not by a rapid-intervention team, but rather by another crew or member that is working in proximity to the downed firefighter.

Use data and studies from other incidents to show new members several factors:

  1. These events are avoidable.
  2. We must learn from these events.
  3. Maydays are not specific to geographical location.
  4. These events can happen to them, and your fire department is not special or exempt from tragedy and disaster.

Bottom line: New members must understand that complacency does not discriminate, and this one action has been linked to a large number of firefighter fatalities and injuries. The training room is the place to underscore this essential lesson.


Teach new members that realistic problems need realistic solutions, and train on your realistic scenarios.

Photo/Drew Neal

3. Simulate the real world in training

Once we have the classroom portion under our belts, we must put the lessons into practical application. How does that work? Teach new members that realistic problems need realistic solutions, and train on your realistic scenarios.

The town that my organization covers is approximately 63 square miles with a population approaching 50,000. Our tallest building is four stories in height, a mid-rise. We do not train on high-rise fire tactics regularly, nor do we train on operating a mayday in that setting. It is just not realistic for us because we do not respond to high-rise fires. Sure, we learn techniques and will take in any nugget of knowledge we can get, but our focus is on the majority of what is within our response district – warehouses, residential dwellings and strip malls.

One of our lieutenants, Lt. Carrasco (aka “Dak”), is always training and doing his best to make it real. Station #1 includes “Dak’s Fun House,” which can be almost anything you want it to be. The 12x50 room can be easily transformed into a variety of mazes and scenarios. Carrasco created the area so that walls can be moved, doorways can be added or taken away, floors can collapse, and you more than likely will become entangled in something. When the room is filled with artificial smoke, there are lights that mimic the glow of a flame.

While we cannot put our members in real-life structure fires for training (burn buildings aside), we can still make the environment one that will be useful when working on a real-life fireground, complete with the low visibility and loud, interrupting noises that can impede communications, plus the cumbersome task of removing a downed firefighter in a setting where space is limited.

In our new hire academy, individuals run these drills over and over and over. Different layouts, different situations, all following our policies and procedures, making sure that they understand the exact steps of calling out a mayday as a victim, as well as responding to a mayday as a fellow firefighter. The instructors begin with the lights on, allowing the students to see what they are feeling, where they are going, and to understand the dynamics of the situation. Then the room may be changed up, setting them up for a scenario they have not yet seen just as if responding to a house fire.

Once the repetitions are maxed out and the members are exhausted, we debrief. What went well? What didn’t go well? What did you learn? What is a scenario that you think would be worth trying out?

Bottom line: Real-world scenarios are where the rubber meets the road. Teams are best built in moments of exhaustion, after putting in serious work as a crew, and building upon one another. This is important for not only new hires, but current members as well.


“Your department culture should provide the atmosphere and mindset for constant honing of skills,” Neal writes.

Photo/Drew Neal

4. Focus members on continued learning

We hired them, they finished the recruit class and graduated the probie year. Now what?

We know that any training done once isn’t enough. Their skills will atrophy. It’s vital to keep members focused on the importance of items like maydays, self-survival and RIT operations, and we do this with step 1: laying the groundwork. Your department culture should provide the atmosphere and mindset for constant honing of skills.

Bottom line: Furthering knowledge is not only an expectation, but a privilege and tool used to continue to build your team. With that kind of culture and mentality in place members are more likely to maintain the skills necessary to work in this profession.

Final thoughts

While firefighters cover myriad disciplines, and our responsibilities grow day by day, we must always maintain the most important skill – taking care of ourselves and our brothers and sisters. After all, if we do not take care of ourselves, we cannot take care of our customers.

Remember to stay humble, be aggressive and maintain the skills of your profession. Whether it’s your first day or your 30th year, someone is counting on you.

Drew Neal is a battalion chief with Hutto (Texas) Fire Rescue, Williamson County Emergency Services District #3. He joined the organization as a volunteer in 2006 and became a full-time career member in 2010. Neal currently sits on the IFSTA 7th Edition Validation Committee and is a graduate of the Texas Fire Chief’s Academy.