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March Mutual Aid

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March 01, 2015 | NATIONAL Gordon Wren, Correspondent

Yesterday I received a call from a local resident that I assumed was just yet another sales call - the kind you get day after day. This gentleman is a school teacher who has developed a passion for small drones. He has actually started a side business, utilizing cameras on drones to film weddings, firework displays, aerial shots of various projects, etc. He comes from a family of volunteer firefighters, and they have been discussing the tremendous value that drones and their on-board cameras could be to the emergency services.

I asked about the cost, and he said that a basic drone with camera, back-up batteries, and other equipment would be around $3,000. He indicated he was not looking to sell this equipment but would be interested in helping us train on how to use the devices.

He then forwarded me an e-mail with an attachment, showing actual footage taken with his drone. I reviewed what he sent me, and I was very impressed by the clarity produced by a camera on a vibrating little aircraft. So, I started to think this concept might have possibilities.

Last night I did a little research and found an interesting story coming from CNHI News Service, regarding a fire at a peanut plant in Georgia. The local fire service were fighting a fire involving 900 tons of peanuts. The fire had collapsed the roof of a silo, and the firefighters could not see what fire conditions were in the silo. A local volunteer firefighter offered to put his drone into service, which was able to give a birds eye view of where the bulk of the fire was. As a result, a state police helicopter was able to drop water bags into the proper location; and master streams were able to be directed where they did the most good. Fire officials credit the camera equipped, remote control drone with allowing them to quickly contain the fire.

In another scenario, a fire department responded to a quarry where heavy fire involved buildings and equipment. The Fire Chief was concerned that the fire might be near the magazines storing explosives and was reluctant to send firefighters in to fight the fire. A drone was sent into the scene, and the officers were able to see on a monitor that the fire was not near the magazines so they proceeded to attack the fire.

I then started to think about all the other situations in which this new resource would help the fire service, like for missing persons, large brush fires, hikers and rock climbers who are injured in remote areas, hazmat incidents, especially train derailments, etc. I just met with the local Police Chiefs, and they too have many possible applications where a drone would be of great assistance. I also mentioned it to our Chief of Communications/9-1-1, who became very excited about being able to send a drone to remote tower sites, particularly when there may be a problem on a tower; and the drone could go 300 feet up into the air and take a very close-up look at a piece of equipment that may need to be replaced or repaired, rather than sending up a climber.

My local expert suggested that the entire drone package be stored in a backpack and that it can be transported that way to any location. His has a roughly one-mile radius for operations, depending on terrain. I asked him about restrictions, and he indicated that currently the drones should be operated below 400 feet of the ground (not sea level) where it is being operated; and there are some restricted areas around the country. I believe the F.A.A. is working on rules and regulations to control drone use by businesses and citizens. I am also aware through the media of drones flying near commercial airplanes, helicopters, and one even created a security problem at the White House last month.

We will be doing more research with our local Sheriff and one of our larger police departments and will hopefully be purchasing some of these units in the near future. If your agency is currently successfully deploying drones, please reach out to me at wreng@co.rockland.ny.us
or 845-364-8933. We would like to learn from experience. I will include pertinent information in a future column. Thank you, in advance, for the mutual aid.

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Gordon WrenCorrespondent

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