Editorial Feature

Fire Fighting Drones

Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are aircrafts that are controlled by either a human being on the ground, or autonomously through the use of a computer program1. These UAVs, which are powered by a jet or reciprocating engine, are capable of flying at a controlled and sustained level2.

UAVs are finding their use in several applications including military purposes such as reconnaissance and attack roles, search and rescue operations as a result of their ability to provide a rapid overview of the situation, disaster relief due to their sustainable nature in extreme conditions, sports photography, wildlife and atmospheric research2,3.

Other areas where drones can be useful include emergency communication networks, the monitoring of catastrophes, landslides, flooding, storms, hurricanes and tsunamis, as well as the monitoring of plane and train crashes, nuclear accidents to track and measure contamination, post disaster relief operations, and many other urgent situations3.

Disaster monitoring by planes and helicopters requires extensive time and personnel training for deployment, whereas a drone can be put to work immediately, while saving valuable time in the assessment of such situations.

Advances in drone technology have allowed for the continuing development of drones, which are capable of maintaining operation during adverse conditions such as rain, snow or during extreme temperatures4.

Drones that are equipped to navigate in challenging environments of solid smoke are able to locate people and exits using advances sensors, which could make a significant difference in such life and death situations4.

These types of drones eliminate the need for firefighters and support personnel to enter the danger zone to assess the seriousness of the situation to plan adequate rescue measures3. Due to their capability of capturing the aerial view to get information regarding the extent of the fire, drones are able to also search for any missing persons using advanced sensors and cameras, while simultaneously transferring the retrieved data wirelessly to the control room.

This quick transmission of data provides an informed analysis of the situation, which can therefore allow firefighters to follow the right plan for controlling the fire.  

The first documented use of drones in this type of setting occurred on March 6, 2017 when the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) launched one of the three drones available at their disposal to respond to a fire situation in a 6 story building in the Bronx, New York3.

The 8-pound, $85,000 drone, incorporated with a high definition camera and infrared camera, had a small cable tethered to the drone to provide it with electricity, therefore allowing it unlimited flight time duationring this situ3.

The tether on the drone facilitated all controls and transmitted data back and forth, therefore eliminating any possible interference with radio frequency signals3. The FDNY officers involved in this situation stated that the drone was very helpful in providing a great aerial view, while also allowing the command post to monitor the fire and help firefighters operating on the roof of the building to making important and accurate decisions in order to control the fire and keep those members of the FDNY safe3.

The FDNY is working closely with the FAA to ensure that all of the rules and policies regarding airspace in New York (NY) city can allow for the safe operation of these types of life-saving drones. To fly the drones at night, or into FAA class B air space, which is the FAAs most restricted airspace, the fire department operations center needs to contact the FAA for permission3.

However, it only takes approximately 10 minutes to get the approval. FDNY officers believe that this new tool in the fire department is going to make a positive impact in the fire operations carried out by them by providing an important aerial view, keeping the FDNY members and people they protect even safer3.

References

1.     "Drones." Live Science. Web. http://www.livescience.com/topics/drones.

2.     Omega. "The UAV - The Future Of The Sky." The UAV. Web. http://www.theuav.com/.

3.     "Search & Rescue: UAVs / Drones for Fire Service, Monitoring Etc." Microdrones. Web. https://www.microdrones.com/en/applications/areas-of-application/search-and-rescue/.

4.     "Rise of the Fire Drones." AOPA. 03 Apr. 2017. Web. https://www.aopa.org/news-and-media/all-news/2017/april/03/rise-of-fire-drones

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