FRIDAY FORUM: Clearing the Mayday

Two Philadelphia Fire Department LODD’s in 2014 and 2018 have something in common: both fires had Maydays that were cleared before the firefighter killed had been located. Incident commanders MUST be hesitant to clear a Mayday, and be sure they are not doing so prematurely.

Firefighter Joyce Craig was killed in a row house during a rapid fire event on December 9, 2014. She became disoriented on the first floor of the dwelling after fire conditions rapidly changed, and gave several Maydays before ultimately going unresponsive. Another female Firefighter exiting the structure was mistaken for Firefighter Craig, and the Mayday was presumed clear until other firefighters located her several minutes later. 

Lieutenant Matt Letourneau was killed on the first floor of a row house as the result of a catastrophic internal collapse on January 6, 2018. A Mayday was given by another officer who was both trapped himself and missing one of his men who was searching the second floor. The searching member miraculously rode the collapse down, and was able to crawl out of the dwelling by following the light he saw from the rear door. The BC operating in the rear declared that the trapped member was out, and the Mayday was presumed clear until Lieutenant Letourneau was found to be missing in subsequent PAR.

The only certain thing about the fireground is that it is ruled by uncertainty. There are few things we ever know for sure, and declaring anything for certain, particularly something as consequential as a Mayday in a high stress chaotic environment, is a risky business. If you find yourself in the position to clear a Mayday, question your decision. Did we get A member out or did we get THE member out? If they were trapped and now free, could there be others trapped? This is one decision that must be second guessed.

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