Editor, IFSEC Global

Author Bio ▼

Adam Bannister is Editor of IFSEC Global. A former managing editor at Dynamis Online Media Group, he has been at the helm of the UK’s leading fire and security publication since 2014.

June 11, 2019

Get the SHP newsletter

Daily health and safety news, job alerts and resources

Fighting fires

Fighting fires with the help of drones

The tragic fire that threatened to completely destroy Paris’s Notre Dame cathedral in April this year was a stark reminder of the immense dangers that firefighters face, and the unique, complex set of challenges that each fire presents.

Firefighting drones

But in their efforts to understand and track the fire’s progression, Paris firefighters used a technology being harnessed increasingly by emergency services to provide real-time intelligence to support decision-making: drones. With centuries of heritage at stake in a rapidly escalating fire, firefighters deployed drones to track the fire’s progress.

This gave the fire service a fresh perspective on the situation, which provided them with vital insight, enabling them to aim their hoses in the right places and deploy their own capabilities in the optimal way to minimise damage.

Drone use is now well-established worldwide. There is widespread recreational use of the technology and it is increasingly part of everyday life with innovative retailers like Amazon taking steps to use the technology in parcel delivery.

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are also widely used by the military to support surveillance and offensive operations and have even begun to assist in humanitarian aid projects by delivering aid in rural areas of affected countries, such as Ghana.

When harnessed for positive means, the technology can be a vital tool that provides firefighters with a more complete understanding of the cause and spread of large fires. In the extreme environments and pressured situations that fire services operate in, UAVs can be crucial in identifying risks to present a more complete picture for decision-makers in firefighting operations.

Quick and accurate response

When integrated within a wider surveillance system, a drone’s position metres up in the air can give it a ‘third eye’ view. In the case of the Notre Dame fire, this enhanced the effectiveness of the crew’s response on the ground by providing a view of the fire that would otherwise have been impossible to obtain.

The use of drone technology can be extremely beneficial in tackling more common building fires too, whether they occur in rural or urban environments. When responding to a blaze, the Lancashire Fire Safety & Police in the UK, for example, use the Aeryon SkyRanger UAV to provide an instant overview of fires as they develop and spread.

This vital information gained from this view can help fire services to position equipment and crews on the ground to effectively tackle the flames. As with Notre Dame, the technology enabled the correct use of existing equipment.

Informed management

Drone technology also helps the fire service safely manage crews on the ground, as the instant overview makes identifying risks to nearby people or buildings and routes to and from the affected area simpler. Enhanced situational awareness offered by UAVs gives the service a strategic advantage, allowing commanders to make more informed forward-planning decisions as the fire’s direction of travel can be accurately predicted, feeding into evacuation strategies.

Urban environments provide more unique challenges in which drones can be a crucial asset. In settings where buildings are typically taller, the ‘third eye’ view from a level plane outside of the building can provide a more insightful view of the fire’s direction of travel.

Additionally, it can help to identify building areas affected and, critically, people within the property. The real-time information the fire service has access to allows them to make decisions based on significant insight and to effectively allocate resources.

UAV technology can also reduce the risk to emergency responders when they enter a burning building, where there may be falling debris or other hazards. Drones can be positioned around the building so that fire service commanders can assess the situation and the danger that it poses to crew and equipment before committing them to the operation.

Technology in action

UAV technology is rapidly improving. SkyRanger, for example, offers HD video alongside an extended flight time and range, providing operators with exceptional clarity and reliability on long missions in harsh and complex environments.

As it’s used in both military and commercial environments, the drone can operate in 65km sustained winds and 90km gusts. The SkyRanger’s extreme capabilities are demonstrated by its use by the British Antarctic Survey; the device can cope with freezing temperatures as well as the dry and arid conditions of deserts, showing it’s ability to withstand the extreme conditions of building fires.

The introduction of drone technology to the fire service’s arsenal presents commanders with a new perspective that gives unprecedented insight into the complex situations they face. The instant overview allows those on the ground to make informed decisions when it comes to managing risk for fire crews and civilians alike, as well as making deployment of equipment more effective, which crucially helps to salvage buildings – like Notre Dame – and, vitally, save lives.

This article was written by Mark Harbin, Business Development Manager, Marlborough Communications Ltd (MCL), and was initially published on IFSEC Global.

Life Safety and Fire Protection at FIREX 2019, running alongside Safety & Health Expo, taking place 18-20 June, ExCeL London

Conversations around fire and life safety have never been more important, so join the discussion in person:

  • Enhance your fire safety strategy with insights from industry leaders at the Expertise & Guidance Theatre and FPA Infozone
  • Discover the latest technological advances and innovative products from across the globe
  • See cutting-edge fire safety solutions in action – hands-on demonstrations will help you evaluate the best methods for ensuring life safety

Register for your free ticket for both events using the link below.

Find out what you can learn from Safety & Health Expo

Thinking of joining the health and safety profession at Safety & Health Expo 2019? Find out what happened last year with this free eBook, outlining the insights and developments from the industry:

  • How a strategic approach to mental health helps companies;
  • Lessons in leadership from Nicky Moffat, a former Brigadier in the British Army;
  • The harrowing reality of workplace death;
  • The transition to ISO 45001, the game-changing workplace safety standard;
  • The 15 most influential people in health and safety;
  • The winners of this year’s Rising Star award.

Download the eBook to find out more, and learn what this year's event might offer you.

Related Topics

avatar
  Subscribe  
Notify of