How Drones Are Used in Firefighting
Thu, April 22, 2021

How Drones Are Used in Firefighting

Having a drone can help people stay out of dangerous areas and life-threatening situations. Hence, it’s not surprising that law enforcement is also starting to use drones to reduce risk and collect more useful data that can aid in formulating a more informed strategy / Photo by: golubovy via 123RF

 

Marco Margaritoff of The Drive, an automotive news and car reviews website, said we have witnessed search-and-rescue teams leverage drones in various ways such as monitoring the structural integrity of London’s Grenfell Tower and incorporating them into the day-to-day operations of lifeboat crews. Drones have become a helpful tool for first responders that firms like Parrot have started to develop drones aimed at public safety.

Having a drone can help people stay out of dangerous areas and life-threatening situations. Hence, it’s not surprising that law enforcement is also starting to use drones to reduce risk and collect more useful data that can aid in formulating a more informed strategy. When it comes to firefighting, drones can be useful too.

 

Fascinating Statistics on Firefighting

In an infographic provided by Drone Fly, a commercial drone solutions company, 69 out of the 347 agencies that bought drones between 2009 and early 2017 were fire departments, as cited by Margaritoff. Moreover, a report from Goldman Sachs showed that an estimated $881 million could be spent on drone use in fighting fires all over the globe.

In a 2018 survey done by Fire Rescue 1, a website dedicated to publishing content on firefighting, it was found that 42% of survey respondents admitted their department does not own a drone, 36% said their department owns at least one drone, while 20% had two to five drones. Notably, one respondent said their fire chief privately owns a drone that their department uses.

When asked if their department is considering a drone purchase, 45% said they are considering that while more than 35% stated that their department is not interested. One respondent acknowledged that their department is considering a drone purchase, but there were usage concerns and financial constraints. When the respondents were asked how their department will utilize their drones, 70% said they would use the drones for search-and-rescue operations while 60% would deploy them in structural or large commercial fires.

More than 50% said they would use them for natural disaster response. Interestingly, 31% reported they will send out drones for technical rescues. Other respondents stated they will fly drones for wildland fire, hazmat, investigations, swift water rescues, as well as for helping law enforcement on the scene and assisting with building inspections.

When asked what prevents the respondents’ department from purchasing or using drones, 40% cited cost as the main barrier for not getting or deploying a drone. Further, 38% admitted there was a lack of interest from leadership, and 25% mentioned training was their main stumbling block. Others cited regulations for use, legal issues, and the time involved in creating a program as barriers to getting and using drones.

If you’re sending firefighters on the ground, you will need to gather as much data as you can to make intelligent decisions. Of course, it will be prudent to use drones to have them look at a fire before formulating a strategy / Photo by: guczi via 123RF

 

How Are Drones Used In Firefighting?

Monitoring

If you’re sending firefighters on the ground, you will need to gather as much data as you can to make intelligent decisions. Of course, it will be prudent to use drones to have them look at a fire before formulating a strategy. Thermal imagery has been the most useful aspect of drones in firefighting because they can see through smoke and other visibility-reducing elements and spot the hottest and coolest areas of a building. 

The information you will obtain from thermal imagery will help you decide how to approach the situation. Interestingly, drones equipped with the proper gear can also serve as floodlights during nighttime operations to assist those on the ground, giving them improved visibility.

“The beauty of using drones is its capability of surveillance throughout the night, which allows those on the ground to monitor the fire all night when valuable information can be captured,” said Chris Martino, VP operations, Helicopter Association International [HAI], as quoted by Amy Gallagher of AirMed&Rescue, a German-based DRF foundation for air rescue.

In structural fires, for instance, a command officer or command officer assistant can prepare and send out a drone directly from the command vehicle. The drone will then capture standard imagery to perform a scene size-up of all exposures, quadrants, and sides. With this data, the deployment of attack lines will be more accurate.

Search and Rescue

Drones give responders a bird’s eye view of the situation, providing them with real-time data while keeping them safe from harm. Further, drones can be flown in places where “humans cannot or can do so faster,” explained Anthony Tisdall and Bear Afkhami of Fire Rescue 1. Drones can also aid in identifying heat signatures of victims, which is useful in situations where they are in an unresponsive or incapacitated state.

Mass Casualty and Post-Event Assessment

Scene size-up is important at a mass casualty event. Hence, drones can help officers and investigators where they need to distribute resources efficiently. These aircraft can hover to provide repeated assessments of the situation.

Drones can also analyze the damage and spot any survivor not visible from the ground. The recorded footage from the drones can be used for future training or reevaluation. Additionally, investigators can also use the footage of the actual incident to assist in their post-event analysis efforts.

How to Implement a Successful Drone Program

1. Understand Your Department’s Need for Drones

Are you part of a large metropolitan fire department capable of supporting a UAV division? It is essential to know the daily response demands of your department, which will influence the type of drone and payload requirements. Always remember that requirements for drone use may also be dictated by certain factors such as call volume, local hazards, infrastructure, and the like.

2. Create and Approve a Workable UAV Budget

You can formulate a financial plan to purchase all the necessary equipment for your department’s drone program. You will also need funds to maintain your program. Your plan will consist of the cost of a pilot or public use certifications, application for government-approved waivers, and training and actual flight documentation.

You will also have to take into consideration insurance, storage, software updates, ongoing training with other response agencies, and more. Before creating a drone program, bear in mind that failure to read and abide by codes and restrictions in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) can mark the end of your department’s drone program regardless of intent or emergency.

3. Learn From Other Fire Departments

Large fire departments like Los Angeles, Phoenix, and FDNY have divisions devoted to drones. Their standard operating procedures are available for anyone to study, so you can incorporate any appropriate information from them to your department’s UAV program.

If you are in a smaller fire department, you can share information and experience with other departments regarding training, budget, suppliers, and UAV equipment.

Drones are indeed useful in firefighting. They can be leveraged to assess situations, keep firefighters and investigators safe, and aid in search-and-rescue missions. To create a successful drone program, departments must know their rationale for deploying drones, formulate a budget, and learn from larger fire departments. Overall, drones help optimize firefighting operations without compromising the lives of humans.

Large fire departments like Los Angeles, Phoenix, and FDNY have divisions devoted to drones. Their standard operating procedures are available for anyone to study, so you can incorporate any appropriate information from them to your department’s UAV program / Photo by: Sanchai Rattakunchorn via 123RF