When Should Command Be Expanded – Before or After the Mayday is Called?

Photo by Tim Olk

My article for the Firefighter/EMT Safety, Health & Survival Section of  the May 2012 issue of IAFC On Scene: Expanding Command Ahead of Demand.

If a mayday operation requires rapid, concise decisions and actions to increase firefighter survivability, then when should command be expanded—before or after the mayday is called?

We know that our work on the fireground is complex, dangerous and chaotic. We know that building and maintaining effective command and control is essential for successful and safe operations. We also know that fireground operations demand that we have a heightened sense of awareness, the ability to adapt to rapidly changing conditions and the skill and will to make critical decisions, and do so fast.

But how do we accomplish that, especially during a mayday situation, with limited or no command staff?

Read the entire article here.

Do you have adequate staffing and resources to handle a Mayday operation? Is your command staff ready to manage the risk and make the decisions to successfully control a Mayday incident?

Are You Ready for a Rapid Intervention Event?

My March 2012 column at Fire Rescue Magazine on FirefighterNation: Forming a rapid intervention committee allows fire departments to focus on awareness, readiness and response to mayday events. By Billy Schmidt Published Thursday, March 15, 2012.

On the fireground, what makes things real for you as a firefighter? What gets your heart racing, your blood pumping? Fire and angry, black smoke surrounding the house on arrival? Bystanders on the scene screaming that someone is still inside? Or the sound of “mayday, mayday!” over the radio at the height of an operation? Any of these can put your brain into overload—naval aviators call this “helmet fire.” Everything you experience during stressful situations will tax your ability to handle the crisis—but a mayday call will take you to your limit. So ask yourself this question: Whether you’re the downed firefighter calling the mayday, a member of the rapid intervention crew (RIC) responding to it or the incident commander trying to get control of it, are you really ready to handle it?

Are you ready? Read more here.

Lessons Learned from the Rapid Intervention Realities Roundtable at the HEAT Conference 2012

Rapid intervention operations, or firefighters saving firefighters, has come a long way since it was first recognized in the 1990’s. And although firefighters have worked to develop better ways to rescue their own, many questions remain unanswered. That was the focus of the Rapid Intervention Realities Roundtable I hosted yesterday at the HEAT Conference 2012. The Roundtable was the idea of the Rapid Intervention Committee (RIC) that was recently formed to raise awareness, heighten the state of readiness, and strengthen the level of rapid intervention response in Palm Beach County. Members representing a variety of positions from several fire departments in the County gathered to talk about how to improve firefighter safety, survival and rescue. Driven by a variety of questions ranging from policies to practices to staffing to command, following are some of the lessons learned from the discussion.


What are your department’s procedures for establishing a rapid intervention crew (RIC)?

  • While everyone plans to establish a RIC, most do not have a predetermined unit assigned to RIC. Because of the geography, staffing and resources available, most believe that the establishment of a RIC is prioritized with other objectives (rescue and fire control). All follow the initial rapid intervention crew (IRIC) and 2-in/2-out rule in the initial fire-ground operations.

Should county-wide standards be used for consistency?

  • While everyone agreed that county-wide standards is probably the most important issue and should be used, they voiced several obstacles that still need to be overcome including politics, equipment purchasing, and home-control.

How does your department measure its rapid intervention capabilities?

  • Unfortunately, while most departments do provide some kind of annual training for rapid intervention, most do not measure the capabilities. This is a hot topic in Florida since there is ongoing debate about how to measure any firefighting capabilities, other than what an individual department requires.

Are there negative perceptions of being a RIC?

  • All agreed that there are, but there shouldn’t be. This is probably because most firefighters misunderstand or are just confused about the why, how and what of the RIC.

How does your department respond to a Mayday call?

  • Again, because of geography, staffing and resources available, there was a difference in response. Some departments do have triggers in their SOGs that provide for additional alarms, but that is after the Mayday is called. Many observed that they should have more fresh crews “on the bench” in case something does happen, at least until the incident is under control.

Do you front-load command staff to aid the incident commander and/or be ready to take over a Mayday or RIC operation?

  • All agreed front-loading command staff is important for command and control of the complex rapid intervention operation. The IC’s span of control is quickly lost when an unexpected event such as a Mayday occurs.


For everyone, this Roundtable was a reminder, or maybe an awakening, about the importance of rapid intervention and the many questions that remain unanswered in the shadows. All agreed that everyone, from chief to firefighter, must understand and want to improve the basic skills and the clear thinking required for a firefighter rescue. Being prepared and ready for a rapid intervention operation just makes good sense! We have to keep talking about this. Look for more roundtable discussions in the future.


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Go here for more information about the Rapid Intervention Committee and what it’s doing.