Firefighters train for mayday situations

First responders face any number of challenges when they arrive on scene, whether it be a crash, fire, medical emergency or something else.

Lately, they’re facing increasing danger of being struck by vehicles while working on a scene. Those drives are either texting, otherwise distracted or simply not giving first responders room to work.

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This week, Great Falls Fire Rescue conducted rapid intervention team training, for what is essentially a mayday or firefighter down situation during a response.

They conduct mayday training at least annually, said Shane Klippenes, GFFR training officer.

That can sometimes lead to too much familiarity with the exercise, so they’ve added in other realistic situations to the scenarios.

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Last year, the scenario included an entanglement since it’s common in fires in commercial buildings for the wiring to start to fall from ceilings and walls as they burn, creating hazards for firefighters, Klippenes said.

This year, in light of the uptick of first responders being struck by vehicles while on scene, the training scenario included a team of firefighters preparing to enter a structure fire where people are trapped when a vehicle plows through them, trapping one firefighter and injuring another, said GFFR Lt. Nate Schmidt.

That becomes the mayday and the primary response focus, he said.

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The exercise gives firefighters a chance to use tools they don’t frequently use, such as lift bags that inflate and help lift heavy objects, and it’s also a change to practice communication.

Schmidt said communication is always a challenge on emergency scenes when things are happening quickly, fires are hot and smoky limiting the senses, and if a firefighter goes down, it becomes a more stressful situation for responders.

“That’s why we train on all this,” Schmidt said.

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GFFR trains regularly on various skills and when they conduct mayday training, Klippenes said they build scenarios that test a number of skills at once and incorporate the 911 dispatch center.

A real world mayday is a low frequency, high risk event, Klippenes said.

“There’s not much of a greater responsibility than saving somebody, whether it’s a member of the public or one of your own,” he said.

They train in an attempt to remove the variables.

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In recent years, there’s also been an effort to destigmatize the emotional stress of first responder work and the local firefighter union has established a peer support program.

A firefighter mayday “is one of the most emotionally stressful events you could every go on,” Klippenes said. “I think a lot of them doing this exercise can’t help but think, what if.”