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How Drone Technology is Impacting the Fire Service

  1. By Olivia Schwartz 

    Drones are being leveraged to continue to improve first responder safety. Whether they are used in dangerous search missions, to detect wildfires, or identify potential hazards, drones are a leading fire safety tool of 2017.

    Search Missions

    Arizona search and rescue groups have begun using drone technology in dangerous missions. In one instance, they used a drone to find the body of a man who fell off a 500-foot cliff. The drone was used to thoroughly check the area in record time, while putting no human life in danger (Staahl, 2017). 1


    This past summer, more than 40 people died and 8,400 buildings were destroyed in the deadliest wildfires in California’s history. In the coming years, longer fire seasons, with a higher frequency and larger number of wildfires are expected due to climate change. Aerial drones are also used to fight wildfires like this in California.

    Drones provide a bird’s-eye view of the fire area, can detect, contain, and even extinguish fires faster and more safely. Unlike airlines and helicopters, which cannot fly in poor air conditions from smoke, drones reveal many factors such as wind direction that affects how wildfires spread. Plus, if a fire begins to put firefighters in danger, drones detect a quick escape route. 2

    According to Dan Gettinger, co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, “Most departments are acquiring the same systems that consumers might use – the DJI Phantom [and] the Parrot drones…[which] generally cost less than $2,000 (Tricia Harte).” Public safety agencies must take lessons on how to fly drones and follow the proper procedures. 3

    Identifying Hazards

    In March of this year, FDNY used a drone for the first time when responding to a four-alarm fire in the Bronx to “pinpoint hot spots in a building in the Bronx (BI Intelligence).” 4 According to FDNY Deputy Assistant Chief Dan Donoghue, “The roof started to fail. We were worried about what was going on (John Annese).” 5 The drone’s camera gave the Chiefs at the command post a good overall picture of the roof, which allowed them to make informed decisions to help suppress the fire and keep firefighters safe. 6

    In Indiana, the Wayne Township Fire Department considers themselves ambassadors for drone technology. The department currently utilizes seven working drones, operating each from their cell phones or iPads attached to a controller. Cpt. Michael Pruitt, public information officer, finds that drones provide invaluable perspective on hot spot and potential hazards. One story he shares involves a tanker leak where the source of the leakage was unknown. To solve the problem, they flew the drone up to the tanker to read the label and identify the liquid. This process took place without putting a firefighter’s life at risk. 3

    Keeping Firefighters Safe

    For many departments, investing in drone’s is not a cheap endeavor, it seems to be worth it and likely to occur in the future. Based off of Business Insider’s detailed drones report, revenues from drones sales will top $12 billion in 2021, up from just over $8 billion in 2016.4

    Despite the high cost, many firefighters are finding that drone technology is worth the expense because it allows firefighters to extinguish fires more efficiently, while often reducing their direct exposure to extremely dangerous fire situations. For more on the use of drones in the fire service, click on the links below.


    1. http://www.azfamily.com/story/34251650/arizona-search-and-rescue-groups-turning-to-drone-technology
    2. https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/drones-are-fighting-wildfires-some-very-surprising-ways-ncna820966
    3. http://fox59.com/2017/07/14/drones-to-the-rescue-a-new-age-of-public-safety-technology/
    4. http://www.businessinsider.com/the-new-york-city-fire-department-used-a-drone-to-fight-a-fire-2017-3
    5. http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/bronx/drone-helps-fdny-fight-bronx-fire-article-1.2990371
    6. http://www1.nyc.gov/site/fdny/news/article.page?id=fa1517&permalinkName=fdny-launches-drone-the-first-time-respond-fire-the-bronx#/0




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