Mayday, Mayday, Mayday – We Have A Fire!

John Konrad
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September 15, 2008

Jack Konrad FDNY - Rescue 3I don’t have many pictures of my father but I recently ran across one posted on the website of his fire company “Rescue 3“. Following Vietnam and the Physician Assistant program at Cornell he joined the Fire Department of New York and was soon accepted into the department’s elite company Rescue 3.

These were the “War Years” and the Bronx was burning. He didn’t talk much about the fires so when he did I hung on every word. One day he was discussing the severity of the situation in the Bronx with an out of state firefighter and said “How many massive, fully engulfed fires with multiple casualties have you seen in your career? There were weeks I saw 5 or 6 per night!”.

What does this have to do with Marine Firefighting? I asked him one day if he was ever afraid of dying in a fire, his answer, “only once”. Rescue 3 Patch - FDNYHe left his team behind to check for victims in a smoke filled room. After entering the door shut behind him and he lost sight of the exit. It only took him seconds to get his bearings but in that short period of time “fear took hold of me”.

After medivacing patients in Vietnam and fighting fires in The Bronx fear was an emotion he long forgotten but within seconds of being disoriented in a fire the emotion returned. We are not professional firefighters so when things go deadly wrong what level of fear will your crew experience? Our best defense is favoring human life over equipment (i.e. close the doors, barrier cool and let it burn out) but when people need to be rescued we must act and our only protection in this circumstance is knowledge.

Today’s tip is the firefighter Mayday and the Evacuation Signal.

Evacuation Signal – a signal to let firefighters know they need to back out of the space.

Do you have an evacuation signal? Is it redundant? Our signal for evacuation of the space is a radio call followed by two tones and instructions over the PA. If your vessel does not have a PA decide on another suitable signal like a portable air horn or megaphone.

Firefighter Mayday – a way for firefighters to signal they are in trouble and can not back out.

Our MAYDAY signal is a radio call to the Chief Mate followed by sounding of the PASS device. If you do not know what a PASS device is click here then go make a purchase order.

When do you call a MAYDAY? It comes down to six simple words:

  1. Fall – and in need of assistance to get out
  2. Collapse – stairs, roof, floor…
  3. Alarm – any situation where you have to activate your PASS device. Lost SCBA air, rapidly deteriorating conditions, distress. (Call MAYDAY before you activate PASS)
  4. Caught – entangled by equipment or wires
  5. Lost – disoriented, off your line, confused
  6. Trapped – debri, fire smoke, heat

What do you say in the mayday? The correct response is fundamentally the same as a maritime mayday: name & position… wait for a response… John A. Konrad VI confirm position and discuss nature of the distress and resources needed.
The one thing my father loved more than his job was family. He passed away a few years back but we have a new Jack Konrad in the family and if the little guy’s namesake was around today his advice would be: “You don’t know what you don’t know. Take the time to learn firefighting to make sure you get home to see Jack at the end of every hitch.”



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