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“The Mayday – Firefighter Down training for tomorrow is cancelled by the Captain, no reason given.”

Such was the similar message of April 14, 1912 when Captain Edward Smith of RMS Titanic cancelled the life boat drill. At 1140 PM that same day, Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic and 2 ½ hours later the unsinkable Titanic sank. Some life boats were found floating empty, one had a capacity of 65 and carried only 24 survivors, another with a capacity of 40 carried 12. Hind sight is 20/20 and so is realistic training.

Dr. John Granito is credited with introducing me to the subject of the rescue of the Titanic during his lecture at the Staff and Command course through the University of Maryland and for the following quote from Titanic Captain Edward Smith, during his last interview.

“I have never been in any accident of any sort worth speaking about … I never saw a wreck and have never been wrecked, nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort.”

Was the life boat (Mayday) drill cancelled because it had become routine, not necessary on an unsinkable ship, too time consuming to train on or was complacency the culprit? After all, what are the chances of needing to do this in a real emergency? The Mayday came unexpectedly, with little warning, while crew members were doing things they had done many times before, just as Fire Department crews do. There were 100 LODD Firefighters in 2013 and I suggest that most died performing tasks that they were familiar with and had performed before.

We as public servants need to always remain diligent, prepared, and well trained and dedicated to protecting the people who I like to call “The Man in the Box,” the people who call upon us and assume we will come and that we are prepared for anything and ready to make their bad day better. Sometimes we also need to help ourselves, through seldom used, but urgently important Mayday procedures.

The rescue of the Titanic passengers is a study in leadership. There were two ships in the area on April 15, 1912, RMS Carpathia and SS Californian. The Carpathia was 58 miles from Titanic and the Californian was 12 miles away.

The Carpathia, under a decision making, trigger pulling, action oriented Captain Arthur Roston ran 58 miles and rescued 705 passengers, The Californian, from 12 miles away, rescued none. The Californian, Captain Stanley Lord, is a prime example of a non leader in a position of leadership who are asleep at the switch, indecisive, poorly trained, over rated and over ranked.

Captain Roston, without hesitation, reacted to the mayday and responded to the man in the box. He had response messages sent, diverted steam for warming his passengers to the boilers for maximum ship speed, established treatment areas, had boarding lights strung, hung pilot ladders and lowered life boats, and fired flares to send the message to Titanic – We’re coming for you.

Captain Stanley Lord, of the Californian, was awakened around 12:45 AM and alerted of flares in the area of the Titanic. His assigned wireless operator had gone to sleep; no Titanic distress calls were received. No orders were issued by Captain Lord and his ship arrived at 8 AM on April 15, 1912.

One night a Lieutenant and I were riding the district and rode to assist at a house fire in another Battalion. This was before formal Mayday procedures and before everyone carried radios. We heard a Firefighter calling for help from under the house. He had fallen through a burning floor and was entangled under the house. We were able to untangle him and remove him. The Firefighter remembered this incident years later and reminded me of it. I had forgotten about it but he, when he needed of a life boat, had not.

When is your next Mayday training scheduled? Make it frequent and realistic.

Which leader would you like to be; Captain Smith, Captain Roston or Captain Lord?

Which leader would have earned the respect of the crew and of the man in the box?

When your iceberg hits will your crew perform well, will you?

Practice for the uncommon occurrences – don’t cancel that drill.

Thanks for reading and sharing.

Have a great day – it’s a GREAT day for it.

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Comment by Jason W. Greer on January 7, 2014 at 8:36am
Excellent piece and thanks for sharing it. I'll be handing it out to my shift tonight at work. It's refreshing to see what appears to be more and more folks in this business standing up to rally the troops to express the importance of actually knowing your job and constantly training to be good at it, especially in an "oh crap" momment. I just pray that those that continue to choose knowing the TV remote more than their equipment and basic procedures have motivated folks with them should they ever get into a tough situation.
Comment by P.J. Norwood on January 7, 2014 at 7:33am

Warren, well said and well written with great supporting historical information that we could all learn from. Nice job!

Comment by Jim Murphy on January 6, 2014 at 8:01pm

Thank you for sharing this compelling story! It should be required reading for every officer or aspiring leader!

Comment by Bobby Halton on January 6, 2014 at 2:17pm

Warren,

Beautifully written great examples and fantastic point. I always enjoy going into factories and taking pictures of those signs that say No accidents for 300 days or 250 days the absence of something/an accident means absolutely nothing in terms of the probability of an accident happening. Great point we work on what are considered critical natural boundaries where to quote the great James Glick "strange things happen"

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