I don’t know any firefighter who doesn’t like to play with remote control things.  There probably aren’t many stations that haven’t had at least a few things flying or driving through the station.  Cars, planes, helicopters, or the new drones; we have them all.  Have we finally found one that is more than recreational in the fire service?

There are actually a few reasons that your department could benefit from having a drone available.  There are several types of drones.  The most heard of in recent news are the unmanned small airplane looking aircraft that our military uses to spy on or eliminate an enemy.   We don’t need to spy or deliver any explosive but we could definitely use the ability to get a birds eye view of some of our incidents.  An adequate drone can fit in a small case, and won’t cost you a lot of money.

A drone and accessories will cost you about $1500.  That will get you a small drone with a camera, and enough battery life to handle most situations.  There are quite a few regulations you will have to deal with, and you may even be required to have a few firefighters get a license from the FAA.   You can check the FAA website for the latest on those requirements.

Once you get your drone, and meet the FAA requirements you are ready to go.  Probably your first use of the drone will be to monitor a few training sessions.  A drone just hovering over a training evolution will let you see how things work on all sides of the incident.  I hate the “sector” terms we have started to use but you will probably need to add another sector for what we see from above.

The safety officer has a pretty tough job, he needs to be able to see all sides of the building, and be knowledgeable about the condition of the building.  Seeing all sides of the building is tough, especially a large building or one with a fence or barrier that prevents walking all the way around the building. A drone can show you all sides of the building, and the condition of the roof.

In a hazmat situation, a drone can fly over a spill and get valuable information like placards, and let you know if things are leaking or spilled.  Getting a crew on the scene and suited up to do this can take a long time.  A drone can be up in the air in minutes and give you that information live without anyone even going into the hot zone. In wildfire situations, drones are fitted with infrared cameras to check for hot spots.  Flying over the fire information on hots spots and fire spread can be viewed on monitors in the command post.

You won’t have trouble finding a firefighter willing to play with the department drone, but you probably don’t have anyone that you can take from the crew and dedicate to flying a drone.  A solution to this may be to get an agreement with a neighboring town to share a drone and firefighter.  You may be able to find a local resident with a drone that is licensed and has a drone that can come and help when needed.

It may take a while before there is a drone on your box cards, but it won’t be long before we start seeing drone pictures of our incidents and training. If you hear what sounds like a swarm of bees above your head, chances are there is a drone in the area.

By John Morse

Drone video credit:  FAA Certified Commercial / Emergency Service Drone Pilot (FAA 14 CFR Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate with an sUAS rating

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