Most Common Uses for UAV's in the Fire Service

As we round the corner on our third anniversary here at Skyfire, we still get the question all the time: what does a fire department need with a drone?

Our typical answer: how much time ya got?

There are literally dozens of ways to use a drone in the fire service (here’s a great look at 21 of them), but there are three major ones that stand out to me as the best bang for the buck.

You get called to a scene where a train has derailed, or a tanker truck is overturned, and your first concern is what’s coming out of it?

Step one, secure the scene. Step two, get guys suited up in $2,500 space suits--which take a half-hour to put on and in many cases are disposable--and send them walking straight into the disaster zone. Hopefully it’s not a noxious chemical, hopefully the suit is reusable, and hopefully the winds favor non-populated areas.

A drone in the hands of a well-trained operator can take the place of some of the most dangerous and expensive of these functions.

You can save time by sending the drone downwind to look at placards, estimate wind speed and direction, and in certain cases even sample the air. Of course, if the spill needs mitigating, you’ll still have to pull out the space suits, but you'll have much more information before you do.

Search and Rescue
Doing things the old way means putting dozens--if not hundreds of people--out on foot in difficult terrain to find a missing person. It may mean employing helicopters--which are several thousand dollars per hour in pilots and fuel--heat exhaustion or dehydration among volunteers, and thousands of man hours.

With a drone, you can have an aircraft up searching within minutes, employing the latest in thermal imaging, geo-referenced grid searches, and even RFID asset tracking for those boots you do put on the ground.

And of course, the faster you find a missing child or alzheimer’s patient, the more likely you are to save them.

Technical Rescue
Drones can be used to fly tag lines across a raging river, drop live jackets to struggling swimmers, and bring a radio to a stranded hiker.

You can put bright searchlights on the drone, or even carry a cellular repeater to help improve communications on the fireground.

These are just some of the most high-profile uses of a drone, but there are so many others, including using the video for training and after-action reports, fire investigation, wildfire surveillance and hotspot detection.