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Is It Time for Your Fire Drone?

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Christmas usually means time for the kids to get a lot of presents.  Among those presents this year there is a good chance you have seen a drone or two.  These little aircraft also known as quad-copters seem to showing up everywhere, maybe it’s time your department added a drone on the fire scene.

I have always found flying remote control devices very interesting, expensive and difficult to fly.  Many of those obstacles have been overcome with the new drones.  A lot of the technical flying controls have been enhanced with sensor that keep them from hitting things and let the drone know to slow down when it is close to the ground.  Hitting a couple buttons on the remote can now have the drone automatically return to the location it took off from.

There are a lot of applications in the fire service where an unmanned little aircraft equipped with a camera could be helpful. I don’t really picture a drone flying into a burning building and putting out a fire but in a Haz Mat incident it would be nice to fly a drone close to check some placards information or check for leaking fluid or damaged containers.  I don’t think a drone can do much to help contain hazardous material or repair a damaged container yet, but while our teams are getting suited up there is time to have someone use a drone to help determine what we will need.  Flying a drone over a train derailment would be a quick way to size up the scene.

Video cameras have found their way to most fire scenes, watching a video is always a good way to evaluate how we perform on the fire ground. Before drones were around, the only way to get a birds eye view of a fire was if a news helicopter was flying overhead and took some video.  That news coverage isn’t very useful.  It’s usually pretty far away and doesn’t show what firefighters need to see to evaluate our performance.  Setting a drone above a fire building to get overhead footage would be simple with the new technology.

Drones aren’t designed to handle any kind of bad weather yet, but after a storm has passed and roads are still clogged, we could use a drone to fly over and help us assess storm damage.  Today’s technology even allows us to control a drone over three miles away, watch live video of what the drone is seeing, and send that same live video to anywhere in the world.  Any agency we work with could watch the video live while our drone is flying.

The latest drone buzz is that Amazon is planning to use a large blimp type warehouse floating in the sky.  When you click to buy it on Amazon, your product will be shipped from the blimp to your house with a drone.  While your package is coming down the drone will only need to direct the package.  After the package is released, the drone will power its way back to the blimp to be recharged.

The only downside to the drone in the fire service is that we already struggle with having enough manpower.  Where are we going to find an extra firefighter to use a drone?  Answer to that question might be found with a firefighter from a neighboring town coming to operate a drone, or even a civilian that can work with our incident commander.  That wouldn’t cost us any manpower.  It might be coming in the future, but if Amazon can deliver my package with a drone, I’m sure some clever firefighters can fit a drone into the fire service.

By John Morse

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