How Firefighters Use Drones

Although drones are typically used for recreational purposes, they also have a major part to play in our health and safety.

Firefighters are just one of the professions in the public service sector who use drones to help protect people from harm and even prevent disasters occurring.

Despite their lightweight and small structure, drones play a major part in saving lives as part of fire operations. Here are just some of the main ways firefighters can use drones:

1. Assessing the scene

It’s not always possible to understand the extent of danger in a given situation, so drones can be used to assess the risk factor before a firefighter approaches the scene. Drones can provide a 360-degree overhead vision of the surroundings and send real-time information to firefighters on how the blaze is progressing. In the recent bush fires in Australia for example, drones were particularly useful in giving firefighters a clearer insight into the development of the roaring inferno and in which direction it was set to travel in. In extreme cases such as this, drones can give firefighters a rough idea of how to enter and exit a scene, alongside other key facts that wouldn’t be possible to acknowledge on the ground.

2. Responding to disasters

It’s not just residential and commercial fires that firefighters tackle on a daily basis, they are also key workers in handling natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and hurricanes. These disasters can cause mass destruction in cities and neighbourhoods and pose a threat to life, but drones are a safe and effective way of collecting vital information in understanding the extent of the conditions.

Sending out drones as early as possible after a disaster has struck can alert those in authority about road conditions, building safety and living conditions to prevent further harm, as well as identifying whether any further resources are needed to protect the safety of residents. Drones can also seek out victims who may be trapped in their homes, in cars and under rubble.

3. Saving lives

Drones could be the difference between life and death. Some devices are fitted with thermal cameras to capture images in low-light, smoky conditions, as well as detecting any hot spots in the building which may signify that a fire has broken out. This type of drone can identify people who may be trapped in high-rise buildings or under debris in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Even drones without thermal technology capture close-up images of the exterior of a building which informs firefighters if any victims are calling from windows. Unlike other search-and-rescue methods, drones are a safe and successful method which helps lower the risk of injury to firefighters.

4. Dropping parcels  

When natural disasters strike, it’s not always possible for residents in the community to find necessities such as food and water. Firefighters can send drones to affected regions carrying items such as food parcels and equipment like automated external defibrillators. Similarly, drones can be used to transport goods from one fire unit to another to quicken up the delivery in emergencies.

5. Preventive measures  

Public safety is the principal responsibility of firefighters, so thanks to the developments in drone technology, firefighters can put preventive safety measures in place before disasters strike. Drones can capture images of buildings such as schools, hospitals and venues from an overhead view and determine if any updates need to be made to the structure to ensure

greater health and safety in the future. Firefighters can use these images as a guide when dealing with fires to gain an understanding of where existing entry and exit points are for easy access to the building.

6. Training purposes  

Alongside the real-time advantages that drones provide, these devices can record video footage of the situation from beginning to end which will later come in useful as a valuable training tool for new and inexperienced firefighters. Recordings can be used to see how the event unfolded so that those in authority can effectively teach new members of the workforce the best practices on how to handle similar situations.

7. Investigations

It’s not always clear why and how a fire started when a building is still ablaze, however, drones can record a first-hand account of what is happening at the scene from its early origins to the spread. Drones can capture footage in both photo and video format which can then be stored and later, analysed as part of the fire investigation.

After the fire has been put out, drones are then sent out to collect visual data which is then transferred into a clear aerial map. This image can be used to conduct a deeper analysis of the scene years after the fire has taken place, as the original conditions can change (such as building collapse or weathering). From a single image alone, firefighters can determine how the fire could potentially have started and how it spread.

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About the Author: DSR Journalist

Harrison Green