Firefighter Drones Come to Rescue New York City
Technology| | By Robin Milling
Look, up in the sky, is it a bird, is it a plane? No, it’s a firefighter drone!
Putting out fires in New York City is a dangerous and demanding job. Running into a burning building is life-threatening, but with the help of drones flying over the city skies it may make things a little easier for New York’s Bravest.
Members of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) will operate little man-less flying machines to detect the severity of major fires and emergencies. The images, delivered in high-definition in real time will inform commanders on how best to respond.
This is not your average annoying hobbyist drone. It costs $85,000, capturing both standard video and infrared images. Keeping up with the FDNY image, the drone is painted fire-engine red weighing in at about eight pounds.
Daniel A. Nigro, the New York fire commissioner told the New York Times, “Technology like this is a terrific advantage for us and for fire departments around the country.”
Drones will change the face of firefighting in big cities whose strategy protocol has remained consistent over the years. This unmanned aerial vehicle will see what is happening at a scene way before firefighters are dispatched into dangerous and fast-moving situations.
On September 11, 2001 the realization of the department commander’s shortcomings became blazingly clear when faced with the enormity of the terrorist attacks. Since then, technology has played a huge part.
The Command Tactical Unit once deployed firefighters with cameras to try to get different perspectives of a fire in a refurbished ambulance because the equipment was so bulky. Now, members of the unit are dispatched with a backpack loaded with a tablet, a smartphone and a Wi-Fi hot spot device.
The drone first became a promising tool to assess and assist when amateur drone operator Brian Wilson used his DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter to capture images of a 2014 gas explosion in East Harlem, where eight people died and two buildings collapsed. This sent up a red flag to the fire department on how they could benefit from a bird’s-eye view of the scene.
Getting clearance to fly drones over Manhattan posed a few challenges for the FDNY such as restricted airspace, or something as simple as getting tangled in a tree. Working with the Federal Aviation Administration solved that problem by getting clearance before a drone’s take-off. Timothy E. Herlocker, the director of the department’s operations center said it should take about 15 minutes. That’s precious time to a firefighter. But the department is being fastidious regardless of the terrain and the obstacles.
“We’re working toward being able to deploy this anywhere in the city,” Herlocker said.
The fire department has been taking the drone on test runs behind a department facility in the Castleton Corners neighborhood of Staten Island. The testing has also given them a chance to minimize barking dogs and curious passersby. It takes two people to operate a drone; a pilot operates the controls, and an observer acts as co-pilot keeping the area clear.
Expect the drone to start doing its job in New York City in the coming weeks, responding to two-alarm or greater fires. By year’s end, two more will be added.
New Yorkers can feel a little safer knowing firefighter drones are coming to the rescue.