Published on September 1, 2015.

Fire department drones are already operational in U.S.

I enjoyed reading your cover story [“Unmanned Advantage,” July/August] regarding drones, robots, and other unmanned systems. I concur that the potential uses of these devices are unlimited and that the future holds many advantages to using this technology.

The article mentioned that there are currently no fire departments with an operational Certificate of Authorization (COA) to legally operate drones, and that the Austin (Texas) Fire Department was poised to become the first department to receive a COA. In fact, our department has an operational COA from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and I wanted to briefly share our story.

In June 2014 we applied for, and later received, a training COA that allowed us to train and determine scope and purpose for the use of drones within our organization. Our unmanned aerial system is a DJI Phantom 2 with a GoPro, which we have used operationally for responses such as grass fires. We have also included it during training operations. In April of this year we re-applied for an operational COA and later received approval. Our personnel have pilots’ licenses, flight medicals, and attend ground school, all part of the regulations to operate the drone. Additionally, we are subjected to the FAA’s limitations on the operation of the drone, such as daytime use, height, and radius distances.

As the article indicated, the process for obtaining a COA is arduous, but in our case the FAA felt more like a partner in the process than the opposition.

Like I said, this is a small snapshot of our program, but I thought you’d appreciate hearing a success story.

Don Tinsley
Division Chief/Paramedic
City of Lenexa Fire Department
Lenexa, Kansas

Canadian drones already proving their usefulness

I just finished reading your great article on drones and robots in the most recent NFPA Journal [“Unmanned Advantage,” July/August]. Strathcona County Emergency Services, located in Sherwood Park, Alberta, has been using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for a little over a year. According to Transport Canada, we are the only certified fire department in Canada authorized to use our UAV during emergency events. Our hex-copter is equipped with GPS and video and still cameras, and has been used for wildfires and fire investigations. It was also recently used in a full-scale industrial exercise simulating a 400,000-barrel crude oil storage tank fire. Last fall we conducted a train derailment exercise in which the UAV also demonstrated its usefulness.

I believe that UAVs will become a standard tool for emergency services in the near future. We are only just scraping the surface of this developing technology and we look forward to expanding our uses in the service of public safety.

Iain Bushell, MBA, EFO, EMT-P
Fire Chief and Director,
Emergency Services
Strathcona County
Emergency Services
Sherwood Park, Alberta

An offer to assist with the development of a standard on drones and robots

I read your recent article in NFPA Journal regarding drones and robots in the fire service and law enforcement [“Unmanned Advantage,” July/August]. I am a former police officer and firefighter in Rhode Island and currently serve as a commissioner on the Rhode Island Fire Safety Board. I have been flying drones for five years now, and they can be very useful for both police and fire.

I have used mine for both and also in my line of work for a company that manufacturers and services emergency communications systems. For the latter, I’ve used the drone primarily as part of propagation surveys for radio communications. I fly the drone to the height of the proposed antenna location on the tower and do a few 360-degree slow videos, which give me a very good idea of the terrain that I’m dealing with. Then I hit the computer and do the topos before running a field test of the equipment. My drones are available to any law enforcement agency or fire department in Rhode Island.

Here’s a great example: A community fire department receives a call for a smell of smoke in a wooded area. Most of the fire departments in Rhode Island that have large woodlands are very rural, and the fire departments tend to be volunteer. I can put the drone in the air in a matter of seconds, travel to a safe height, and spot the location of the smoke and/or fire in real time. I can then quickly determine the GPS coordinates, along with any landmarks. Because this can all happen so quickly, the fire department is in an offensive mode, rather than defensive, and can make a direct attack on the fire before it gets out of hand. Also, the drone can be fitted with an infrared camera and flown over a factory or other large structure and locate the source of a fire to help the fire department plan and execute an appropriate attack. The drone can also be used in overhaul operations to locate any hot spots and prevent a rekindle after firefighters have cleared the scene.

I’m an NFPA member, and if the organization wants any assistance or input in establishing standards for drones and robots, I would be more than happy to provide my time and input.

Rodger Booth
West Greenwich, Rhode Island

From the web: Private drones + the WUI

[Re: “Unmanned Advantage,” July/August]: A very interesting article to be sure. Future UAV discussions should also consider the use of private devices on an active fireground. Multiple recent wildland fires near urban areas have had to shut down all air operations for periods of time due to private aircraft flying inside of the operations flight area (see the North Fire and the Lake Fire in southern California).

If the FAA and NFPA cannot reach a rapid and clear set of rules, I would expect wildland/urban interfaces to see an increase in grounded air operations while being entirely unable to use unmanned systems technology to their advantage. It would be a shame to see so much potential turn into a lose–lose situation for many cities and departments.

David Sample,
General Manager’s Assistant
Pine Knot Marina
Big Bear Lake, California

The editor responds

In early August, shortly after the publication of our story “Unmanned Advantage,” NFPA received a request for a new project to develop a standard and possible training materials on the use of drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles. NFPA will work with the submitter of the proposal, along with the responder community, to gain a better understanding of the need for, and possible scope of, such a document. NFPA’s Standards Council will ultimately decide the merits of creating a new document. Stay tuned.

Solid fuel cooking fires and the need to harmonize NFPA 96 and NFPA 17A

I read with interest your recent article on creosote fires in solid fuel cooking systems in restaurants [“Fuel to the Fire,” July/August]. I hope the article encourages restaurant owners and authorities having jurisdiction to pay special attention to solid fuel cooking hazards. Of interest to your readers might be the recent work of the NFPA committees addressing commercial cooking and systems for protecting those unique hazards.

NFPA 96, Ventilation Control and Fire Protection of Commercial Cooking Operations, and NFPA 17A, Wet Chemical Extinguishing Systems, are in the same fall 2016 revision cycle. There is a joint task group assigned to coordinate the requirements of these industry standards with the goal of removing duplication, conflicts, and inconsistencies between the two documents. There are many changes relating to this topic in the first revisions of both standards, and I encourage the readers of NFPA Journal to review them and submit public comments.

Also of interest is the NFPA 96 task group on mobile (food trucks) and temporary cooking operations. This fire problem was reported in another recent issue of NFPA Journal [“All Up In Our Grill,” May/June]. The task group will report on its recommendations at the next meeting of the committee, with the goal of having something on food trucks and temporary operations in the next edition of NFPA 96.

Fire safety for commercial cooking necessitates special attention and I’m glad to see NFPA Journal giving it the attention it deserves.

Mark T. Conroy
Senior Engineer, Technical Services
Brooks Equipment Company
Charlotte, North Carolina
[The author is a principal member of the NFPA 96 technical committee and an alternate member of the NFPA 17/17A technical committee.]

Solid fuel cooking fires and the importance of following NFPA 96

I read with interest your recent article on creosote fires in solid fuel cooking systems in restaurants [“Fuel to the Fire,” July/August]. Much of my work as a consultant is with the industry trade association Fire Equipment Manufacturer’s Association.

The article brings to light the dangers of ignoring the protection requirements for solid fuel cooking in NFPA 96, Ventilation Control and Fire Protection of Commercial Cooking Operations. Solid fuel cooking presents some unique challenges, and the recent migration toward using solid fuel in gas fired appliances may prove to be even more challenging. And, while I’m not in agreement with some of the opinions of the author regarding listed systems for these hazards, I am in full support of the need for designers, installers, owners, and authorities having jurisdiction to follow the established minimum requirements for solid fuel cooking in NFPA 96.

I’m glad to see NFPA Journal shine a light on Chapter 14 of the standard, and I hope to see more on restaurant fire protection in the future.

Jim Tidwell
Tidwell Code Consulting
FEMA Code Consultant
Cleveland, Ohio