Within the past three years, there are multiple examples of local agencies using small drones to assist with fire and rescue operations. These are not large aircraft looking devices, but small airships that are best compared to remote controlled toys. They’re small. And, with the proper equipment on board, they’re potentially useful in fire and rescue incidents.
So, what do we know about drones in this new world that is emerging? They’re not toys, and they’re capable of highly sophisticated functions, including being able to read type on shoelaces from several hundred feet in the air. They can mess with you if there aren’t appropriate privacy laws put into place.
- It can be “launched” faster than a traditional helicopter or Jet aircraft
- It can be refueled in less than five minutes
- It can maintain aerial surveillance of an area (including a person) at 700 feet without being detected
- The operational cost is approximately 11% when compared to a manned helicopter
- It can fly in any weather, continually day after day, with missions of up to three hours.
Drones like the ShadowHawk have the ability to utilize equipment that was limited to military use only a few years ago, such as forward looking infrared radar (FLIR). The ability to track heat sources, ranging from fire to lost people is pretty remarkable.
And that’s where concerns about privacy come into focus. There are a number of state level bills emerging all across the country that may permanently ground these devices. There is an open debate (as it appears there is with everything these days) about the degree to which drones are invasive. As a firefighter, determining how these drones may be useful is something that should be considered.