Drones are eyes in the sky for firefighters. They can serve as an essential firefighting tool for people in the fire services, especially in and around urban centers, where a deadly inferno might occur in a highrise building.
Drone for fire fighting can equip fire officials with the latest technology, and add complementary capabilities to the existing resources such as fire trucks, ladders, specialized suits, etc. Firefighters can now acquire aerial information in a quick, cost-effective manner.
In 2016, a tragic fire broke out in a warehouse in Oakland, California. The warehouse had been converted into a living space called Ghost Ship. The fire, which claimed the lives of 36 people, is one of the deadliest in the history of Oakland. Drones, equipped with a thermal camera, were used by firefighters to identify hotspots and search the unsafe-building after the fire was extinguished.
The effectiveness of drones is rapidly catching on, as agencies around the world begin to adopt this technology. In the US, more than 900 state and local agencies related to the emergency services are using drones one way or another; out of them, approximately, 186 is believed to be related to fire and emergency medical services.
Can Drones (UAVs) Put Out a Fire?
This is a common question that people often ask. A short answer is No, drones are more useful in acquiring situational awareness about the fire and its surroundings. Firefighters can use this information to control the fire and ultimately put it off. However, there are a few companies that are equipping drones with water hoses or fire extinguishing materials.
How Are Drones Used During Firefighting?
Situational awareness: In a typical scenario where a fire has broken out in a building, firefighters arrive at the spot and begin their operation with limited information about the extent of the fire and damage it has caused to the structure.
Instead, with a fleet of drones, firefighters can begin with an aerial assessment of the scene and know the extent of the fire before starting their rescue operation using drones.
Reach difficult places: Drones are efficient in going to tight spaces since they are nimble and agile, and deploying them first avoidings putting humans in unsafe situations.
Thermal assessment: In a firefighting situation, firefighters work against the clock to save the lives and integrity of the structure. That is why it is important to direct their efforts towards the source of a fire. Drones equipped with a thermal camera can assist firefighters to identify hotspots inside a blazing structure. Accordingly, firefighters can direct their efforts to bring the situation under control.
Search and rescue: Firefighters are actively involved in search and rescue missions. A thermal camera drone can do the job of 100 people by scanning a large area and identifying people in distress. During a natural calamity like an earthquake, thermal camera drones can fly over fallen structures and identify trapped individuals, and even identify dangerous leakages.
What Kind of Drones and Payloads are Commonly Used During Firefighting?
Drones come in all shapes and sizes, but not all of them are suitable for firefighting operations. The more suitable ones are off-the-shelf fire fighting drones from the likes of DJI and custom drones based on open source stacks mainly PX4 and Ardupilot. Here are some of the drones that are considered fit for such kind of tasks:
Drones are not usable without the appropriate payloads. For firefighting purposes, these are some common payloads that are used:
- Zenmuse XT2 (a thermal camera for DJI drones)
- Zenmuse Z30 (a normal camera with 30x zoom for DJI drones)
- Zenmuse H20 (A hybrid camera that combines a wide-angle camera, 23x optical zoom camera, thermal camera, and laser rangefinder for DJI drones)
How FlytNow Can Make Drone Operations a Lot Smarter for the Firefighters
Traditional Challenges in Using Drones for Firefighting
The conventional way of using drones, during firefighting, is a pilot controlling a drone using the remote controller (RC). Here, the pilot becomes the relay point of all the information collected by the drone. This method of using drones may be simple, but is not very effective, since multiple pilots are required to control multiple drones. On top of the human resource requirement, there are several other disadvantages, as follows:
- It becomes difficult for a drone pilot to share the data with different agencies and ground personnel, which hinders coordination.
- Difficult to archive flight data, which makes it problematic for the future analysis of an emergency situation.
- Data collected from multiple drones cannot be stitched together for better situational awareness.
- Sharing live data becomes difficult, more so when multiple drones are involved.
- Drone response can’t be automated since they can’t be integrated with emergency response systems like the 911 operations centers.
How FlytNow Helps in Overcoming the Traditional Challenges
FlytNow is a fleet management system that helps public safety officials to overcome challenges in using drones for firefighting, security and surveillance, automated patrols, and emergency response.
FlytNow is a cloud-based application that provides a unified dashboard to control a fleet of drones. It has two versions (Business and Enterprise) that cater to two different use cases.
How Drones are Connected to the FlytNow Cloud Application
FlytNow is a hardware-agnostic cloud platform meaning it supports different kinds of drones. Users using DJI drones can use the FlytNow Mobile application to connect the drones to the cloud application.
In the case of custom drones, a single board computer loaded with the FlytOS operating system can be attached to the flight controller of the drone, to facilitate communication with the FlytNow application over a 4G/LTE/5G network.
FlytNow Business is a standard offering that provides out of the box features in the form of SaaS (Software as a Service). This version is useful in establishing a quick command center, locally, for a particular response to manage the drones in operation.
Some of the unique features and benefits that it provides are as follows:
- It provides a web-based dashboard with an integrated map to control a fleet of drones. Using this feature, a single operator can control the movement of multiple drones, thus saving cost and time.
- The dashboard offers live telemetry and visual data from all connected drones, with dual control from both the RC and the web dashboard. This allows for coordinated drone operations where data from multiple drones can be stitched together and shared for better situational awareness.
- The Business edition has out of the box support for live video-streaming from multiple drones that can be shared with anyone using their email address.
- A viewer can switch between ‘normal’ view (RBG) and ‘thermal’ view (IR) if the drone is equipped with an IR sensor. In the case of DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual and DJI M210 V2 Dual, the FlytNow dashboard provides the MSX view that shows the lines and edges, along with the contrast, to differentiate between regions with different temperatures.
- Along with MSX, FlytNow gives the option to switch between different color pallets like Rainbow, Hotspot, Gray, Isotherms, Hotmetal, and Coldspot for the M2E Dual.
- Thermal imaging allows firefighters to identify hot spots and see whether they are hitting the fire. In a post-fire situation, a thermal drone can carry out an inspection of the outer facades of the building, and send the live footage using FlyNow to a structural engineer sitting hundreds of miles away for a better assessment.
- The business version has out of the box support for DJI payloads (eg. Dual Camera, Spotlight, etc) for drones such as Mavic 2 Enterprise and the Matrice 200 series. These payloads are specially designed for emergency operations.
- Apart from DJI payloads, it supports remote control of the gimbal, on which the camera is attached, via the web dashboard. This allows a remote viewer to control the camera angle for a better visual.
The Enterprise version adds customization and addons to the Business edition. This version is ideal for setting up a drone-based emergency response system with the following capabilities:
- A system that is integrated with a dispatch system like the 911
- Integration with a decentralized network of drone stations supported by Drone-in-a-Box hardware, which allows for automated dispatch of drones.
- A unified dashboard that can be part of a command center, which allows for the control and management of the drones over 4G/LTE/5G.
With respect to fire fighting, the Enterprise version offers advantages such as:
- AI-based features like object detection to help identify people trapped under debris or lost in a forest.
- The ability of public safety officials to maintain detailed flight-record of each and every drone flight, to comply with airspace norms. All these legal requirements and complexities are solved using FlytNow Enterprise’s native support for DroneLogbook (a flight data recording service) and Airmap (a UTM service).
- Support for custom maps, so that operators can adjust to the terrain over which drones are flying.
In this blog, we discussed the importance of drones for firefighting and how they can be used to save time, resources, and lives. We also touched upon the kind of drones and payloads used for fire fighting operations. Finally, we ended by showcasing the benefits that FlytNow provides by allowing the usage of drones at scale with data availability for proper coordination.
If you (plan to) use drones for public safety, then FlytNow is the right software platform to allow you to leverage cloud technology for better management and transparency of your drone operations. You can get started with our 28 days free trial. You can also contact us at https://flytnow.com/contact/
FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
Q: What is the main goal of using drones for firefighting?
A: The main goal of drones in the context of firefighting is to provide situational awareness so that firefighters can identify hot-spots and effectively direct their efforts to bring the inferno under control.
Q: Will drones replace firefighters in the near future?
A: No! Drones are not meant to put out a fire. They assist firefighters to identify hot-spots and based on that firefighters direct their efforts. Drones are just a tool that helps firefighters to do their job. There is no remote possibility of drones replacing human firefighters.
Q: How are fire fighting drones being used to help fight fires?
A: Drones provide cheap access to aerial data that can be used to acquire situational awareness in the event of a fire. Drones can also carry different sensors; one sensor that is used often is the IR sensor, which helps firefighters to identify hot-spots and even trapped people inside a structure. In a nutshell, drones provide the data to make better decisions.
Q: Will drones someday be able to carry hoses for firefighting?
A: It depends on the size of the drone. A big enough drone can carry a hose and fly close to a blaze. A drone with a hose can be very useful when there is a fire in a highrise. Ladders have a limited height but drones can fly higher compared to ladders, and they can fly close to a blaze without risking anyone’s life.