Drones and FirefightingAugust 10, 2018 16 By Scott Hinkle
It seems like you can’t turn on the news or log into your favorite social media site today without seeing something about drones hampering firefighting efforts (especially now that it’s fire season), a near-miss between a drone and another aircraft or the occasional invasion of privacy claim. This post is going to focus on drones and firefighting, highlighting both the positive and negative impacts drones are having on firefighting efforts.
Please take the time to read this article to see how you can help, or at least not hinder. From simply “staying out of the way” to volunteering your time and experience, there are many ways to assist in firefighting efforts. Also, be sure to check out my post Community Interactions – Improving the Perception of the Drone Community for additional ways to help the drone community.
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Drones Hampering Firefighting Efforts
There are quite a few news clips floating around lately regarding drones interfering with firefighting efforts. There are many reasons you may want to fly your drone in the vicinity of a fire:
- You might want to get a better view of what’s going on
- You may want to check on your animals and/or property
- Maybe you want to get footage to give or sell to the news channels
- It can also be that your intent to fly in the area has nothing to do with the fire at all
The problem is, if your aircraft is in the air, it’s an object that can cause quite a bit of damage to other firefighting aircraft. This will actually force the firefighting crews to ground their fleet rather than risk a collision. In turn, the fire can quickly spread. You may not realize the impact of a single tanker flight can have on fire containment.
Check out some of these recent articles and this one video from KUSA News:
KUSI News – July 2018 – Special Report: Drones causing chaos for California firefighters
WeTalkUAV – July 2018 – Drones hampering firefighting efforts at wildfires across the US… again!
Popular Mechanics – June 2018 – Drones Are (Still) a Firefighter’s Nightmare
The Mercury News – October 2017 – Firefighters say drones interfered with their work — one pilot cited
Gizmodo – October 2017 – Hey, Maybe Don’t Fly Drones Where Firefighters Are Trying to Save Lives
Quartz – July 2017 – Firefighters are getting increasingly frustrated with drones
Drones Helping Firefighting Efforts
OK, so there’s a lot of negative press but there’s also some positive. Drones are also helping firefighters in various ways:
- Monitoring Structural Integrity – Using various views and instruments, drones can help firefighters better assess structural integrity.
- Thermal Imaging – Used in various ways from finding the hot spots, allowing firefighters to concentrate their efforts on strategic locations, to locating trapped people and animals, etc.
- Post Event Assessment – Getting views safely that might otherwise be dangerous to attempt in-person.
- Actual Firefighting – From spraying water/fire retardant to assisting in creating fire breaks and more.
- Keeping Pilots Safe – UAVs are remotely controlled, keeping the pilot safely on the ground and out of harms way.
- Gathering Important Data – Drones can be equipped with all kinds of sensors that can provide critical data such as wind direction, speed and other relevant variables.
- Aerial Views – Giving a better situational awareness and even allowing visualization of fire paths, escape routes, etc.
Check out some of these articles:
Drone Below – January 2018 – New Research Shows Benefits and Drawbacks of Drones in Fire Fighting
The Drive – December 2017 – Drones in Firefighting: How, Where and When They’re Used
Mach – November 2017 – Drones are fighting wildfires in some very surprising ways
USA Today – March 2017 – NYC firefighters use drone to help battle blaze for first time
How can you help?
There are several things you can do to help in a firefighting situation:
- First and foremost, stay out of the way. Don’t give into that urge to get the perfect shot. Let the firefighters do their jobs.
- Offer to volunteer your services. There are many departments out there they may not yet have a drone. Offering your services to give them a better view, etc. might be of benefit to them. The worst that can happen is they reject your offer. Keep in mind, when flying your drone for any purpose other than hobbyist use you are required to have your FAA 107 license in the US. Check out my post Get the FAA Drone License – Make Money Legally with Your Mavic for information on what’s required, how to get it and various study options.
- If you have a great idea on how drones can be used in firefighting efforts or for an accessory or drone design, share it. Reach out to your local fire station and see what they think of it. Maybe you can build a business with your new design and help save lives in the process.
Be on the Lookout
Keep an eye out for others that may not know, or may not care, about the flight restrictions around fires. If you see someone flying in the area ask them to stop. If they won’t, consider asking local law enforcement to stop them. They only hurt the community and end up giving drone pilots a bad name and bad press.
While flying, if you happen to see a fire, report it. This is probably a rare occurrence but there might be that time you go hiking and find a fire just starting that hasn’t been reported yet. Don’t assume that someone is aware of it (unless you see firefighting efforts in play). Make sure that it’s reported immediately. The sooner action is taken the better the odds of it being contained quickly.
Quite a bit of progress has been made in the area of drones and firefighting. From new tools to new rules, it’s only going to get more exciting and probably a bit more restrictive. Do what you can to help, be it volunteering, staying out of the way, keeping an eye out of others, etc. Try to spread the positive side of drones when you see it and offer the positive side when someone brings up the negative. I’m not saying cover up the negative but I do believe the negative side gets a lot more attention than the positive (sensationalization and shock factor).
Did I miss something you think should be included? Do you disagree with something I’ve said here? Do you love this article and just want to let me know? Please comment below. I read and respond to each one.
Negative sides can about anything. It depends on how you look at things and how you use drones. If you think positively you will use it positively. If you think negatively you will use it accordingly. It all comes down to your approach. I believe drones can be used in many fields in the future and this will make our life better.
So true about anything really. Intent is a huge part of the equation, skill and perception are the other parts. Today I’ve posted about drones in firefighting…tomorrow it could be drones carrying guns, etc.
Drones are becoming more and more common in today’s world. Governments and organizations are scrambling to get some sort of regulation in place to address concerns from spying to safety. It’s going to be an interesting few years ahead I think.
I never had any idea how much of a hazard drones could be. As I learn more and more about how to use a drone, I am thinking about buying one for myself, instead of using my sons all the time. What type of drone would you recommend for a novice drone photographer? I really have no idea what I am doing yet, but I am learning. Your videos are quite helpful, and are giving me great ideas. Thanks for the info!
I really like the Mavic series from DJI. Depending on your needs, I’d look at the Mavic Air, Mavic Pro/Pro Platunum and Mavic 2 offerings. Check out these 2 posts:
DJI Mavic – Which One to Choose
The DJI Mavic 2 – The New Models Are Finally Here!
Let me know what you think.
Thanks for the great article Scott! I was completely unaware that drones could add a new barrier for firefighters and create additional hardship. It was good to see that drones are more helpful in most cases.
The world is changing rapidly and it’s great to see technology changing for the benefit of society and law makers always looking to combat the dangers of those new technologies.
I also had no idea that when flying your drone for any purpose other than hobbyist use you need to to have your FAA 107 license in the US. It is pretty interesting you are able to make money using a drone and looking forward to reading more about the subject.
Sadly, some people are so interested in “getting the shot” that they don’t think of how their actions can impact critical services. A drone in the path of a rescue chopper for example can cause a delay and make the difference between a life being saved vs too little too late.
It think most people want to use their drones for good. Are there some that have nefarious motives, sure but, in general I, most don’t. I am amazed at the advances and unexpected uses for drones that have been coming out of the woodwork lately.
As for making money, there are so many options. From real estate, farming and film making to power line and tower inspections, the options are endless. I’ve already made more than what my drone cost me by performing various tasks for others.
It really is a great time.
Let me know what other drone related topics you’re interested in. I’ll see what I can come up with.
I found this information here very important. I never thought that a drone can create that much problem. Thanks for explaining it with real proof. Next time I fly my drone I would make sure that it is away from any firefighter working zone. Though drones can greatly help in firefighting as you have explained but it should be used only by the officials. Everybody needs to understand it.
I know curiosity is tough to fight but, when it comes to emergency situations, it’s best to leave the sky clear for the emergency services that need to use it.
Each country has it’s own laws and regulations. I highly recommend you learn which ones apply to you so you don’t end up having your drone confiscated or worse.
Thanks for reading.
Its good that you have shown the positive and the negative aspects of how drones affect fire fighting operations. I think that drones can be seen as a nuisance because of the many irresponsible users out there however these devices are and will be capable of far more.
Once the usefulness of drones is realized I believe that a lot more research and development will occur. Perhaps I watch to many sci-fi films but I believe drones can be of great benefit to society when used correctly. You have already pointed out how drones can go where it is otherwise difficult or impossible for humans to go.
I think that drones can be further equipped to be able to assist people like firemen in terms of navigating through smokey unstable environments.
I totally agree regarding irresponsible users out there. Just like in anything else, people fixate on the negative. You might see one drone user interfere with firefighting efforts and that will get sensationalized in the news, but, did you hear about the drone pilot that helped locate a missing child in the forest? Probably not.
Drone technology keeps improving, from AI’s to attachments and capabilities. It’s going to be an interesting few years coming up.
Thanks for taking the time to comment.
I never knew that drones were and issue with fire containment and fire fighting. Then again I never knew drones were so big either. Wow. I have purchased a drone and the kids and I had a great time. But it was a lot smaller then the drone in the picture. Is that a professional drone or are their hobbyist who can purchase that as well?
It is great that you are so clearly and honestly gettin the word out that we can have fun, enjoy technology , and have our own rights while also following the laws and helping others.
I enjoyed learning about this.
That primary picture and the drone in the video is huge. Those are marine or car batteries powering it to give you an idea. It has to be though to carry a fire hose and to be able to provide the power to push against the water flow when the hose it turned on. That’s a lot of weight and force.
Most drones you see today, at least in the hobbyist realm are relatively small. There are a few larger ones but for the most part they’re small. In the end, if they’re used responsively, hobbyist have a long fun-filled future but, if they act irresponsibly, that future will be loaded with so many regulations it may end up being more fun to watch paint dry.
I’m hoping for the responsible option.
Thanks for posting.
I find it very interesting everything you talk about the use of fire drones. Logically, the people who handle these drones can immediately alert the corresponding authorities. On the other hand, they can also cause accidents with airplanes, be responsible for their use and carry all the legal documentation. Thanks for sharing!
It boils down to “common sense” and paying attention. Sadly it’s not so common. I’m hopeful but skeptical at the same time.
I’ll continue to try to get the word out and educate others as best I can. I think drones a loads of fun and can serve many purposes, helping society too.
Thanks for reaching out.
I didn’t realize that drones were causing this big of an issue with fire fighting efforts everywhere. With firefighting efforts, time is of the essence because the aerial firefighters have to get as much done as possible when the wind conditions allow.
Earlier this year we had a huge 41,000 plus acre grass fire in the Colorado Springs area. Firefighting efforts had to be stopped because of a drone. In this case, it was a television station’s drone.
I enjoy reading about the positive things that fire fighters are using drones for. Thanks.
Yes it’s sad but an unfortunate reality. People are so interested in seeing what’s going on and getting the shot that they don’t consider the ramifications of their actions. In the end it gives drone pilots a bad name and hurts the community as a whole as more restrictions are placed on the industry.
We just had those massive fires here in California. The smoke was so bad I had to stay indoors for a few days and we’re miles from the one that destroyed Paradise and I think that one was over 150,000 acres!
I too am happy to see drones being used in various organizations and industries as well. Law enforcement, firefighting, oil and power line inspection, agriculture and so on. It’s an exciting time to be involved in the drone industry for sure.
Thanks for commenting!