Department head Daniel Chisam switched controls when he saw one of the three new fire department drones pointed over a pile of rubble. The engine spun on Wednesday while floating on a concrete slab and beat-up bus in a practice operation outside the Phoenix Fire Department’s special operations area.
Cheatham is the program manager for the Fire Department’s newly created unmanned aerial vehicle system program, launched earlier this month to improve the efficiency and safety of firefighter missions.
At a news event on Wednesday, Chee Sam and other Phoenix firefighters showed how to use a drone to help fight a fire. Since June 6, the program has overseen more than 10 missions, providing reconnaissance to firefighters handling brushes and building fires, Cheesam said.
Captain Kenny Overton, a spokesman for the agency, said the drone was worth helping the commander make quick decisions during dangerous operations.
The drone has a 360-degree orbital view and can fly over or beside an emergency area, eliminating the potential risk to firefighters. During a building fire, a live feed from the drone informs command staff how the incident is progressing, whether the fire response was successful, or whether adjustments are needed.
Dangerous goods situations are one of the most dangerous for firefighters, but drones can provide a highly needed buffer, Overton said. He demonstrated this by having Cheetham fly a drone on a bus at the top of a rubble hill. Its mechanical blades were blurry as they moved around the vehicle. Drones close the gap in information that dispatchers and callers can’t, Mr Overton said.
“You can fire a drone to see the vehicle and see the placard before the crew can reach it and be exposed to chemicals or substances,” he said. The drone’s camera helps you dial in to see what’s in this placard, what’s happening, and what kind of vehicle this is. “
Cheatham, one of nine certified pilots, added that using a drone to call dangerous goods would help firefighters keep cancer away.
“This drone can’t catch cancer, but firefighters are 65 times more likely,” he said.
In the future, Cheatham hopes to employ drones for mountain rescue and hopes that the drones will help reduce the time required to identify victims and the number of firefighters dispatched.
“This can be used during mountain rescue to limit the number of rescuers on a mountain that can be injured,” he said.
Drone operators complete approximately 50 hours of training to obtain a basic federal managed aviation license. You will also need to receive mission-specific training to prepare for flying around buildings and mountains, and attend monthly training sessions that are mandatory to maintain proficiency.
The Phoenix Fire Department operates small drones that work well in valley weather up to about 110 degrees Celsius, when batteries begin to be compromised.
Larger drones can withstand higher temperatures, fly longer, and if the program becomes more subdued, the department may acquire them in the future, Chisam said. Phoenix fire drones can now record flight times of up to 35 minutes before the battery needs to be replaced.
Finding a drone team on a mission is easy. The observer and the pilot are wearing brightly colored high-definition vests that direct the flight of the drone. It is the observer’s job to flag the dangers in the air or on the ground that can interfere with the operator’s work.
Chee Sam said it was important to give them a large sleeper and not to worry about privacy issues. Operators pay attention to public privacy, and drones currently only deliver live feeds. There are no recorded or saved photos.
Contact criminal justice reporter Gloria Rebecca Gomez at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter@glorihuh.
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