For a New York City firefighter in trouble, issuing a “mayday” has always set off a frenzy. It prompts chiefs to shout to try to keep people off the air. As radio silence takes hold, firefighters count heads and try to determine from whom and where the call came.
When multiple maydays come at once, they can cancel each other out, intensifying the chaos and danger.
The Sept. 11 attacks, and other disasters since then, painfully illuminated the difficulty of locating lost firefighters: mayday calls rang out, but it was often difficult to tell who was sending them.
Since then, the Fire Department has been working to develop an accountability system that would more effectively pinpoint the locations of firefighters and equipment and log those spots, Deputy Assistant Chief Stephen Raynis said. The goal of tracking mayday calls more precisely is one of five initiatives the department has undertaken as part of an overall strategy that relies on data to increase awareness and communication in emergencies, when hundreds of people may be converging at once.
Last week, the department began the first citywide use of a new software system, known as the Electronic Fireground Accountability System, that can identify the seven-digit number unique to a radio, the department’s spokesman, Francis X. Gribbon, said. It then translates that number into a firefighter’s name and displays it, if necessary, on the laptop computers mounted in various places, including in fire commanders’ vehicles.