Fighting a raging fire is one of the toughest uphill battles in the public-safety world.
When the call comes, firefighters are forced to rush into a blaze or disaster scene with very little information – often having no idea of the size and scope of the fire nor how many potential victims may be cut off from rescue. The good news – drones have arrived and are fast becoming the firefighter’s secret weapon in the battle.
In Connecticut, the West Haven Fire Department recently purchased a UAV tasked with covering search and rescue operations as well as providing a bird’s-eye view of fire scenes.
“It’s a new technology that everyone is trying to wrap their heads around or get their hands on,” said Chief James O’Brien in media reports.
A coastal town, West Haven sees an influx of summer visitors each season, which means more coastal rescue and fire calls.
O’Brien sees the new drone as a first -response weapon. “We can have the chief officer launch the drone to locate any boater in distress or swimmer in distress,” he said.
Since the area is also prone to hurricanes, the department will use the drone for post-disaster reconnaissance.
“[This] will help the city and the taxpayers in recouping money from FEMA when we can document the before and the after photos,” the fire chief said. “If we have an incident along the railroad tracks, under certain applications we would be able to apply [the UAV] in order to keep our firefighters and the public safe,” said O’Brien.
In Spokane, Wash., the city council gave the local fire department the OK to use drones for hazmat incidents.
“We can impact people’s lives forever, and their families,” Spokane Fire Department spokesperson Brian Schaeffer told reporters.
The department will fund the purchase of three drones with a $28,000 Homeland Security grant.
Last year, emergency officials faced a serious hazmat threat after a chemical fire at a steel and recycling plant spewed a cloud of noxious gas that threatened residents. Schaeffer points out that a drone would have given the department a head start in threat evaluation. “The [chemical] cloud was moving,” Schaeffer said, “We didn’t have good access into it.”