CASE STUDY: Drones Represent a Valuable Tool for Fire Fighters


SUMMARY: Thermal imaging cameras on unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) represent an extremely valuable tool for fire fighters to use when responding to a variety of incidents. Drones serve a variety of unique purposes in life safety missions with use cases that are continuing to evolve.

PROBLEM: Unlike 30-40 years ago when most buildings contained interior furnishings and items make from natural materials, today's structure fires feed off petroleum-based products as their primary fuel source. This causes today's fires to burn much faster as evidenced by the Oakland "Ghost Ship" fire on December 3 which claimed the lives of dozens of victims despite an estimated three-minute response time by the Oakland Fire Department. Additionally. the substantial heat and smoke from raging fires can make it difficult to locate potential victims and provide safety for fire fighters.

SOLUTION: Drones are the latest solution to emerge on the fire fighting scene as a valuable tool to help save lives. A UAS can provide situation awareness to fire commanders both at the scene, and back in a command center. This information can help ladder crews know where to direct their water. Drones with thermal imaging cameras can see through the smoke to help first responders identify the location of trapped victims. These drones can also help to monitor the scene for potential hotspots that could re-ignite under certain circumstances.

Tom Calvert, a battalion chief with the Menlo Park Fire Protection District, calls thermal imaging and drones two of the four great breakthroughs in modern firefighting, right up there with breathing apparatus and radios. While figures are hard to come by, drones with thermal imaging cameras are rapidly becoming standard equipment for fire companies.

It's an absolute game changer for us," says Calvert. The district is rapidly expanding it's drone program because of the edge Calvert says it gives responders to have a drone in the sky above an incident,

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