Last year a lost hiker was found dead only two miles off of the Appalachian Trail she was hiking on. Unfortunately, despite an extensive seven-day search after her disappearance her body wasn’t discovered for another two years. In this instance, using a drone to provide aerial visibility would have been an invaluable resource. Recently, several firefighting agencies have recently begun using Unmanned Aerial Systems.
The benefits of UASs to a fire agency are numerous. They enhance safety at a contaminated scene, assist in rescue/recovery, and improve scene management through thermal imaging as well as resource management. When an 82-year-old man with Alzheimer's disease had been lost for three days in a Wisconsin cornfield, he was found in 20 minutes when a drone was used to search for him.
When rolling out a UAS program for a fire department, it’s important to notify citizens and other departments to help spread awareness, and knowing what steps to take in order to begin implementing drones. This can include training pilots, creating operational protocols, or securing federal funding.
There have been provisions set forth by the FAA for Public Use of UAS (by public agencies such as state, county, city and town officials) given they register their aircraft, file the correct paperwork and properly train their pilots. This process is not difficult or expensive, but it does take a great deal of time to prepare, implement and set up a UAS program for a fire department.
If your department is considering implementing UAS, a good start is to check out the FAA website for operational rules as it pertains to operating them in a public space. When the time comes to procure the equipment, remember FireRescue GPO, a program of NPPGov, has cooperative contracts available to help expedite the process.
The IAFC created a task force, chaired by Chief Keith Bryant, Oklahoma City Fire Department, to evaluate the current state of unmanned aerial systems UAS policy, procedures, tactics and technology as they impact the fire and emergency service, and provide leadership and subject matter experts for fire and EMS departments interested in implementing a UAS program. Resources are available at IAFC.org/UAS