Drones are a source of apprehension for many people due to the safety and privacy issues they appear to compound. But everyone can get on board with the concept of using a drone to save lives. This is why fire departments across the country are beginning to add drones to the team.
Last spring at the UAS Commercialization Conference, ex-Montgomery VA County Fire & Rescue Service Assistant Chief Michael Clemens explained to attendees “You put our lives and the lives of your friends and families in our hands. We want the best technology so we can make the best decisions.”
I don’t think anybody is going to argue with that.
Drones are to firefighters what bomb defusal robots are to SWAT teams: they are a way to take a quick look at an extremely dangerous situation without immediately throwing a person into harm’s way. Plus they can provide a aerial perspective of a burning building or similar situation much faster and more cost effective than a traditional helicopter.
So which drones are the best for fire departments? Well naturally, the most important criteria for a fire department’s first drone are:
2) Ease of use
3) How easily will it melt?
With that in mind, these drones seem to be the optimal choices for fire department in the market for their first drone:
DJI Phantom 2 Vision+
The obvious contender out of the gate is a DJI Phantom. The Vision 2+ is the most expensive option, but it comes with the full package: 3 axis gimbal, HD camera, live streaming video capabilities compatible with the smartphones firemen already have in their pockets, and even autonomous flight via the Ground Station feature in the mobile app. So users could just point out waypoints and let the drone fly itself.
Plus, the Phantom can withstand extreme heat: DJI’s Eric Cheng conducted his own experiment by flying into an active volcano in Iceland and, while the GoPro melted when it got too close to the lava, the drone itself remained intact.
Nighthawk Thermal Kit
Designed specifically for emergency response, the Nighthawk is basically just a DJI Phantom that DSLRPros modified to carry an FLIR camera. Each kit is hand constructed and comes with its own controller and monitor as well as extra batteries and extra props.
If the Vision 2+’s price tag is a little high, the next choice would be 3DR’s Iris+. Users have to supply their own GoPro, but the camera can still be controlled via smartphone.
The platform itself is much more customizable and has a large community of DIY-ers that can help prospective pilots program the drone to fly specific missions. The Iris+ is definitely the drone for the fire department that want to “make the drone their own.”
In an emergency situation, less is often more. If a fireman needs to see the roof of a building five minutes ago, chances are he doesn’t want to fiddle with a drone, the controller, and his phone. The Yuneec Q500 Typhoon has an LED screen embedded in the controller and all the controls for the camera are within reach of the thumbsticks. Users never have to take a hand off the controller to adjust the camera, shoot a picture, or take a video. Plus, the Q500’s downlink image is arguably the best on the market.
If you happen to be a fire chief looking into acquiring a drone for your department, we encourage you to check out dronesforfirefighting.com and use the Dronelife product configurator to find the perfect drone.