Monday, May 05, 2014

Montgomery County, Maryland: Fire Department Using Drones

LANHAM, Md. (WNEW) — The Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Department has invested in a new tool that will help it better fulfill its mission of public safety — three Unmanned Aircraft Systems, better known as drones. 

“I think that this is going save lives, and it’s also going to save property loss, and it’s going to save us time,” Montgomery County Fire Department assistant chief Mike Clemens told WNEW’s John Domen, who got an exclusive look at the new machines. “It is exciting because it’s another element to make us better.”

Fire officials believe the reconnaissance the drone can provide while a fire is burning will be invaluable.

“Something like this can hover at the height of a building, about 25-30 feet above it,” Clemens said.

The high-definition camera mounted on board is capable of sending still shots and video to crews on the ground, so they don’t have to guess where to target the blaze. This can be especially helpful in highrise building fires.

The drone can also help officials more accurately gauge the structural stability of a burning building, allowing firefighters to escape before a potential collapse.

The new machines will be used in rescue operations both on land and on water.

“We spend a lot of time on the Potomac, and that’s probably the most dangerous thing we do in this profession,” Clemens said. “We can see different currents (in the water), different things that are occurring. We might see different people that are in trouble. We can only see visually what we can see from the boat or what we’re given. When we’re looking for victims, this thing can fly in areas you can’t get to.”

Hazmat situations, suspicious packages, multi-vehicle crashes, and construction accidents well above or even below ground are also the kind of situations the department anticipates the drones being utilized to help MCFRS responders. Clemens said he got the idea to use them while doing preliminary site work at the location where the county is building a new training academy.

Even with the camera on board, the system only weighs about two and a half pounds and is less than two feet in diameter.

It uses a built-in WiFi system to connect to GPS satellites and can be operated by a smart phone or tablet plugged into a remote control. Each drone costs less than $1,000.

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