Who are they? What do they do? How do drones save lives and property? Watch as we go inside the Los Angeles City Fire Department’s Unmanned Aerial Systems Program (UAS).
L.A.’s elite firefighters are using the latest technology to transform and advance firefighting techniques in their never-ending battle to keep the public and firefighters safe.
Considered one of the top fire departments in the world, the LAFD is identifying many uses for drones on the frontlines. As the department gears up for each new fire season, and any number of other potential disasters, they’re preparing and training a top team of new drone pilots. We take an exclusive, up-close look at the program, its equipment and the advanced skills it requires to operate these amazing new unmanned aerial systems.
Tactical to Practical: Some LAFD Drone Facts
Drones made their first official incident-based flight during the Skirball Fire in Bel Air in December of 2017.
After obtaining a federal certificate authorization to own and operate UAS, the LAFD turned to the Los Angeles Fire Department Foundation for a grant to purchase four drones.
The LAFD drone fleet started with two DJI Matrice 100s and two DJI Phantom 4 Pros. One Matrice 100 is equipped with a HD camera for area survey and the second Matrice 100 has Forward Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR) to assess hotspots.
The LAFD is very sensitive to the concerns regarding privacy and adheres to the following criteria:
The UAS will not be used to monitor or provide surveillance for law enforcement purposes. The UAS will only be operated by trained, certified and licensed members in both operational and observational capacities. UAS operators will be focused on protecting firefighters and those the Department serves either through training or at active incidents. (Source LAFD.Org)
What Are LAFD Drones Used For?
High-risk emergencies: send in the drones!
Each year, the Los Angeles City Fire Department responds to nearly 470,000 calls for service. While many, such as medical services calls, are not high-risk emergency situations, there are some significant incidents that pose a great challenge to the LAFD, its firefighters, its resources, and pose a considerable safety threat to all involved, including the affected community. It is during these higher-risk calls that the unmanned aerial systems, aka drones, can make the difference between life and death.
By their nature, emergencies such as hazardous materials incidents, confined space rescues, high/low angle rescues, swift or moving water rescues or any other expanded or extended incident, require every available means of gathering information to increase firefighter safety and situational awareness. During these types of calls, the complexity or scope requires critical decision making by the incident commander and may pose a significant risk to firefighter safety. At times, the use of drones could be extremely beneficial.
Drone Mission Deployment
Some of the top situations where the LAFD UAS team can be requested, deployed and utilized include:
Structure fires – in particular, buildings suspected of structural compromise; possibly in the roof, walls or floors.
Hiker incidents- especially in wilderness areas, where drones may assist with locating lost or injured persons who have called 911 while hiking, camping or climbing. The drones also may help first responders confirm the safest and most effective means of getting the rescue team to the victims.
Swift water incidents – deploying drones during heavy rains to help locate trapped or injured people in swiftly moving water.
Wildfire mitigation – drones can play a key role in GPS topographic mapping, planning and mitigating hazards; for example, structure defense, perimeter control (hot spots) and to assess containment.
Natural disaster response and assessment – UAS’s can accelerate the situational awareness needed to begin the recovery process. Drones may help collect information through visual images sent back to the incident command post, or Emergency Operations Center for various agencies to have a collective viewpoint of a disastrous event. This strengthens the assessment process by capturing community vulnerabilities.
Hazardous Material Mitigation – Deployment of UAS’s with dual-purpose sensor payload, high resolution camera to identify containment areas and amount of content for liquid spills or Gas/Chemical Sensors (Sniffers) to collect air/environment samples for analysis and identification.
Wide Area Search and Rescue – utilizing Infrared sensors to locate a lost person in low light tracking and deploying resources in areas where radio or cellular communication is impacted, diminished or unavailable.
Structure Collapse/Confined Space Search and Rescue – Deployment of UAS’s utilizing infrared sensors to provide night-vision footage to track heat signatures of bodies, pinpointing the locations of survivors, and providing hazard assessment for rescuers access and egress.
Planned Training Events – Use of drones for training exercises intended to simulate any of the above mentioned “real” scenarios. Use of UAS’s for training purposes shall be limited to events that take place on LAFD property, such as Drill towers 40, 81 or 89, Frank Hotchkin Memorial
Training Center, live fire training, Jensen Filtration Plant, or local fire stations.
Under NO circumstances will a drone be operated while manned aircraft are in operation.
Source: LAFD 2017
By Charles Stewart