Drone Day: Firefighters praise technology's usefulness - Tucson News Now

Drone Day: Firefighters praise technology's usefulness

(Source: KOLD News 13) (Source: KOLD News 13)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

New technology has forward-thinking fire departments hoping to take action.

"No question. The advantages of drones are there,” Tucson Fire Department Capt. Julian Herrera said.

He spoke with Tucson News Now about how using the overhead drone view provides perspective when fighting structure fires, and in swift-water rescues.

In those emergency situations, that bird's eye view has not been easily available. It’s a camera shot that can descend directly upon rushing water when a human life hangs in the balance.

"Swift-water rescues are fast and rapidly developing incidents. If we get word that a patient enters the water at a certain point, it doesn't take much time for them to be somewhere completely different,” Herrera said.

It’s why he said the Tucson Fire Department is working to add a drone as one of the many potentially effective tools they hope to have in their arsenal.

Finding that person quickly is the ultimate concern when knowing where to look can be the difference between life and death.

"We do get those instances where someone does get swept away. Without question, it could be extremely beneficial in those situations,” Herrera said.

The Northwest Fire District already has a licensed drone pilot in Deputy Chief Scott Hamblen. He is trained and ready to go, as his department also works to get new drone technology up in the air.

As he explained through examples, the possibilities are endless.

"In the case of a lost hiker, being able to fly out and locate where the person is within minutes, and potentially drop a bottle of water over them," Hamblen said. "Whereas it would've taken one of our crews on foot maybe 45 minutes to reach that person. We now can get an accurate location, and we can provide some immediate relief via water or snacks or whatever the aircraft can be capable of."

Firefighting is also enhanced, according to Herrera. He cited Tucson's recent historic Corbett Building fire in February, where a view from a good Samaritan’s drone gave them a higher perspective of the burning building.

"The drone enables us, very quickly, to be able to get that view, and to get a much more educated guess on what it is we're trying to accomplish,” he said. "We were able to get a better understanding of the integrity of the roof, and if it was safe for firefighters to go up on the roof or not."

But it’s not always something Herrera, nor the Tucson Fire Department, are encouraging. YouTube videos have shown New York firefighters using a fire hose to spray a drone out of the sky when it got too close to a house fire.

Basic Federal Aviation Administration regulations require drone operators to “not fly directly over people.” Northwest Fire District officials explained that people should treat the area directly over a house fire as a temporary restricted "no fly" zone.

Herrera is putting out the warning as a matter of safety concern.

"There's always a degree of danger involved with drones, as far as colliding with equipment we might be using. Or, getting in the way of what it is we're trying to accomplish on that scene."

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