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Home / WLF TheySaid / Drones and Fire Line Safety

  • 06/17/2015
  • Abercrombie

Recently I assembled a UAV that had a 15 minute flight time, first person view capability, and telemetry data. All for less than $300. I have been flying it around my local park when the high school isn’t using the field for football or baseball. My thoughts about it were what great advantages having a view from the sky could be! I’ve been flying it for about 2 months now, and have lost some props, watched as it fell from the sky and crashed onto my car leaving custom UAV scratches from the crash landing and my favorite was when I first fired it up on my kitchen table and didn’t have my props tightened down and it jumped into my lap and cut my leg and fingers.

Recently I had been thinking about the usages within all sorts of industries. I watched as firefighters in New York sprayed at a UAV that was inside their working zone and wanted it gone. But there was also many others that were very slow to accept the new and merging technology. With many resources out there as to how to build your own UAV such as reddit, facebook, and more.

The USDA has come out with very bold communications regarding flying UAVs / Drones saying that it makes the fire line insecure when it comes to safety.  Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has already taken a bold stance stating that if any If an unmanned aircraft, or drone is spotted they will now force firefighting planes and helicopters to disengage, leaving ground crews to fight the blaze alone until the drone is grounded and such stances have been mirrored as far as Australia. Cal Fire has already followed in the same standard. During the Sand Fire of 2014, Cal Fire grounded all aircraft until the pilot of the UAV was located and asked to ground the aircraft so firefighting can proceed via aircraft.

Firefighting aircraft typically fly very low. Like a bird strike, a small radio-controlled plane could bring down a helicopter or airplane which is already nerve racking for high stress situations for pilots. According to FAA, annually birds cause roughly $600 Million dollars of damage nationwide to aircraft. Of the 500+ aircraft that hit birds, roughly a fifth of them had to make emergency landings.

Last July, pilots from NYPD were ‘buzzed’ by a UAV, an act of flying by at high speeds with the intention of irritating people, and the NYPD engaged with the UAV until they found out their location and had them arrested for reckless endangerment and ended up getting thrown out out as the pilots had video proof of the opposite of what was documented. Over and over UAV enthusiasts are getting a worse reputation because UAVs are getting easier and easier to purchase and build.

Does that mean they should not be allowed on the fire line? My opinion is NO. We have to remember that these are hobbyists being reckless at low altitudes. NOAA has previously used UAVs to fly into hurricanes with sensors to collect data and imagery and they want to use the same tech on the fire line. NOAA states that they ‘have been examining UAS for use in supporting firefighters for over a decade… [we] need to take advantage of resources to monitor fires from above.”

NOAA States, “Incident support forecasters require highly detailed and tailored forecasts for placement into incident action plans. Improved high resolution weather and fire behavior modeling. Adding in‐situ observations above and near the incident area would provide greatly improved situational awareness and support improved high‐resolution model forecasts of local winds, relative humidity and other sensible weather elements critical for fire suppression planning and tactical decision making. These improved services are critical to executing NOAA’s primary goal – protection of life and property.”

It’s a completely new concept that hasn’t really utilized. I think we need to keep hobbyists from flying at low altitudes interfering with operations, and welcome private industry with High Altitude and Long Endurance to assist with firefighting the future is here.

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  1. Skyler Ray
    June 25, 2015 Reply

    Well, i quite agree with all of this. I would not want any distractions from my perspective if i were to be fighting a fire whether it be in a residential area or a wild land scene. The last thing we need as firemen and women are distractions from our important job.
    Good day sir.

  2. MLJ
    July 27, 2015 Reply

    on 3 Southern California fires now, Drones have flew above and next to air resources, endangering the pilots and FF’s on the ground under them. Fires are not the place for these. You wont get very good pix with the smoke, turbulence, etc., anyway. Fire plane cameras have IR and image stabilization. Until the Agencies ask for folks to sign them up, LEAVE THEM AT HOME. A new bill soon to be signed will allow FF’s and LE to destroy them. Shoot them down, squirt them, throw rocks, whatever, to make them crash. I’ll be happy to destroy any I see on a Fire after this passes, so if you value your expensive toy, leave it at home…

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