Phoenix Fire Department Launches Drone Program

In a press release, the City of Phoenix recently announced that its fire department launched a project to integrate small-scale electric aviation into its operations. Since the launch in June, the team has been responding to a small subset of the department’s overall emergencies, both for training and to figure out best practices for using drones in fire departments.

During the first month, The Phoenix Fire Department’s UAS team has flown 94 times and spent 14.4 hours in the air, with a total of 12 emergency incidents handled during those flights, including 1st Alarm Fires, brush fires, and mountain rescues.

“Without support from the Mayor and Phoenix City Council, this breakthrough technology would not be possible. The Phoenix Fire Department is committed to providing the highest level of customer service and resources to our community and members,” the city said in its press release.

With a crew of 9 FAA-approved pilots, the drone team leadership has contacted the Federal Aviation Administration, Sky Harbor Operations, Sky Harbor Tower, Phoenix Police, PFD Special Operations, and PFD Operations. In a larger metro area, being able to coordinate operations with all of these different entities helps not only get the job done, but also be safe.

Getting licensed may sound easy on the surface, but it’s not. To pass the initial FAA remote pilot test, an aspiring pilot who’s doing it for reasons other than having fun (whether for money or for other work) has to get familiar with airspace rules including how to read FAA airspace maps, known as sectional charts. These charts are complex, and filled with all sorts of special use airspace, from military operation areas to flight training zones to national parks. There are also many rules that apply to drones, like staying within 400 feet of the ground or the nearest structure, getting special permission online to operate near dangerous areas like airports, and many other things.

The written test has an 88% passing rate, so it’s not the hardest thing in the world as long as you’ve done something to prepare. For anyone who’s not intimately familiar with aviation or the rules that govern it, the test can be daunting. Commercial operations and even whole YouTube channels have dedicated themselves to pilot test preparation.

And that was just the beginning of the challenge for this team of pilots. Making sure everyone else knows what they can and can’t do, coming up with procedures to get them to a scene and safely operate, and working with the public all present challenges for governmental drone operations.

The team is now in its second 30-day phase, where the program will continue to integrate unmanned aerial systems into Fire and Special Operations by continuing to train and respond to emergencies. The Phoenix Fire Department’s Technical Services Division is assisting with enhancing video feed choices for command. Those pictures will allow for more thorough studies and understanding of the problems on the ground.

Furthermore, the initiative will meet with the Phoenix Fire Department’s Fire Prevention Bureau in order to assist with Outside Storage Combustible inspection.

One of the big advantages to using drones for this kind of work is that manned aircraft, almost always powered by fossil fuels, won’t have to respond to nearly as many incidents. This is a big win not only for public safety, but for the environment.

Featured image provided by the City of Phoenix.


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