Firefighters across Delaware are moving toward a universal procedure for answering the most serious call that can come over their radios — the one that signals one of their own is in trouble.
Delaware firefighters all soon will be using the same mayday signal, an attempt to keep them better coordinated if the worst should happen. Individual agencies are being trained in the new procedure.
The change is more a standardization of practice than a policy change, assuring each of the state’s 61 companies and seven dispatch centers behave in unison when a firefighter is in danger. Different dispatch centers and stations previously use independent responses to maydays.
“It puts all the firefighters on the same page. We respond with the county. The county comes in and responds with us on large fires,” said Wilmington Fire Chief Michael Donohue. “When a mayday comes in, that’s serious business. We don’t want to have a communication breakdown.”
Efforts to standardize the mayday signal began more than three years ago with a former Wilmington firefighter, Jack Wilson, incoming fire chief at Seaford Volunteer Fire Department and an educator at the Delaware State Fire School. His work culminated in June when the Delaware State Chiefs Association voted to adopt a universal procedure.
Wilson was listening to radio traffic during a mayday signal when he said he first realized the inefficiencies of separate responses for individual agencies. After he’d stood on his “soapbox” at a Kent County Chiefs Association Meeting, Wilson said he was asked to chair a statewide committee.
In the years before the 2016 Canby Park row home fire which claimed the life of three Wilmington firefighters — Lt. Christopher Leach, Senior Firefighter Jerry Fickes and firefighter Ardythe Hope — Wilson said he identified more than 10 maydays which were signaled incorrectly. Other firefighters have been injured since.
He reached out to national agencies for statistics and advice, and he said polling more than 150 Delaware firefighters shows there was a deficiency even in the basic understanding of mayday policy.
A mayday can be signaled by repeating the word three times over a radio, but the same emergency response is triggered with phrases such as, “we are trapped,” or, “firefighter down.”
The policy now calls for the endangered firefighter to transmit what’s called the “WWW” — who is giving the mayday; where is the location; and what is the problem?
Once a dispatcher is clear there is a mayday situation, he or she will deploy a standardized five-second warble tone and announce, “All units, a mayday has been declared, radio restrictions unless there is an emergency. Incident commander, did you copy for mayday?”
The mayday response then is coordinated by the incident command, who dispatches a LUNAR, describing the location of the mayday; the unit number of the firefighter; the name of the firefighter; the air supply remaining for that firefighter; and the resources required for a response.
From there, the rescue is underway,
“The incident commander and the dispatchers attention to detail, even when the fire initially seemed ‘routine,’ may save a life,” reads the universal policy’s synopsis.
Training on the new policy will continue through the early part of 2018.
Wilmington firefighters already are using the new mayday policy, Donohue said. It wasn’t an easy process getting each firehouse on the same page, he said, but it’ll be worth it.
“Trying to get 61 companies to agree, that’s a task in itself. But they understood the serious nature,” Donohue said. “Everybody was on board with it.”
Contact Adam Duvernay at [email protected] or (302) 319-1855 or @duvINdelaware.