Firefighter Drones – How Drones are Being Used for Helping Fire Departments

While drones continue to get much smaller, more powerful, and have better payload options, one thing that will stay the same is its ability to quickly reach a vantage point where humans cannot easily get access to. This remote controlled or even autonomous flying platforms can be used to make people’s jobs easier and more efficient through better information gathering and surveying. Firefighter Drones are sent to fire locations as scouts, using cameras with thermal imaging technology to help first responders in their rescue efforts. 

Drones can be equipped with thermal cameras to see in the low light-dark conditions, detect irregularities on various infrastructure ie. solar panels, inspect insulation on buildings, and even check for hot spots in burning buildings.

For public safety having a drone in the sky during an active large fire, search & rescue operation, or post-fire assessment is the only way to get a full understanding of the current conditions and to ensure the safety of the fire team.

In a chaotic structure fire, having a drone that is easily able to be deployed to reach a viewpoint above the fire allows for valuable information to be gathered about the current fire conditions. With greater visual and data information better decisions can be made, especially when dealing with fires where people’s lives and property are at stake. From wildland firefighting to burning buildings thermal drones can see through smoke and dark to detect the hotspots are and where the crew is. It is this type of technological leverage that can really mean the difference between more property damage to greater loss of life.

Drones have the edge compared to manned aircraft for scouting and inspection as they use fewer resources and can be deployed more frequently. No paying for pilots, fuel costs, and maintenance. A single drone can cover vast areas autonomously with software that can be tuned to look for specific temperature when using a thermal camera.

As we have also seen in the news drones can get in the way of wildland firefighting as people try and take drone pictures and videos of the flames while water drop operations are going on. We understand that this is extremely dangerous and drone operations should halt during active wildland firefighting water drop operations.

How Firefighters Are Using Drones As First Responders To Save Lives | CNBC

As an extra safety feature on the DJI Matrice 200 series, there is a built-in ADS-B receiver meaning that the drone automatically provides the drone operator with real-time information about the position, altitude, and velocity of nearby manned aircraft. This increase in drone location awareness enables safer and more efficient use of airspace, particularly in locations where other manned aircraft may be operating.

In regards to wildland firefighting drones are perfect for checking the aerial damage and checking for hotspots after water dropping operations have cleared or passed. The Los Angeles fire department used drones after the recent Skirballfire to do just that, assist with post-fire assessment. Drones are being used to help in wildland firefighting efforts that are affecting people’s lives which makes not only working in the drone industry such as dronefly and more worth it but it also makes the job of public officials easier and more efficient.

Drones are also being used to assist with burning building blazes. Such as in March 2017, New York City firefighters used a drone to monitor a four-alarm fire to keep an eye on the roof of the apartment building as it was feared that the building would collapse.

The Deputy Assistant Fire Chief stated that “The roof started to fail and we had a lot of great radio reports, but that’s only verbal, so with the drone we had good visual pictures and it really helped us make decisions to put this fire out and keep our members safe.” With a drone better visual information could be gathered allowing for the best decisions to be made, giving great reassurance to firefighters entering the blaze.

With better scene monitoring more accurate assessment of burning structures with a drone can be done to have a better understanding of the status of the fire before firefighters are even ready to enter the blaze.

Payload drop systems can be easily attached to a drone to allow it to drop off various equipment. The weight of the payload varies from drone to drone but typically with a 2-pound payload, a variety of safety equipment can be attached to the drone. Typical payloads include life preservers, guide safety lines, 2-way radios, first aid kits, and other medical supplies.

Life Preserves can be extremely helpful for a distressed swimmer or for capsized boats. Guide safety lines can be dropped so that rescue officials can help guide people in hard to reach situations such as being stuck in the middle of a river. Radios can be extremely helpful to provide a quick communication device between stranded people and rescue teams in remote areas. In addition to other payload options drones can be equipped with floodlights which can easily illuminate a dark area making it easier for rescue teams to see.

Thermal (infrared) cameras have the ability to see through smoke and to view objects emitting energy in complete darkness. These cameras come in different models that vary in refresh rate and resolution allowing the user to buy a solution that fits their need. For energy inspection, great resolution and refresh rate is needed to closely monitor temperature changes, however for search and rescue the optics do not have to be as high a grade as people stand out easily against a cold or nighttime environment.

The use of drones to assist firefighters, rescue operations, and post-disaster officials is the future. Over time we will see a greater implementation of drones into public safety agencies as the benefit they provide cannot be matched. As with all technological advances, people will use it as long as it is easy to use just like computers and cameras.

As drone batteries get better allowing them to fly for longer and have heavier payloads the faster the adoption will be. A future in which a drone gets autonomously launched from a fire truck when it first arrives on the scene and takes to the skies to analyze the situation and provide real-time feedback to the ground crews is a future that we should all get behind.


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