When the Notre-Dame de Paris caught on fire, situational awareness was key to successfully limiting the damage done to the cathedral. It was one of the first times that firefighting drones were hot news, as they helped to assist the Paris Fire Brigade with giving real-time information to track the progression of the fire and finding the most suitable position for the hoses to properly extinguish the flames.
All areas around the globe are affected by climate change. Every year, a forest the size of the UK is burned down. Firefighters are called upon to stop early stages of wildfires. Wildfires can burn millions of acres at an alarming rate, consuming everything on its path. Not only do these occur in Australia and the United States, but wildfires are also becoming a common reality for Europe, and if left untouched could lead to incredible damage. This year alone:
- An equivalent of 750 football fields of forests and dunes went up in flames due to wildfires in The Netherlands
- Poland experienced it’s most devastating fire in decades with 10% of Biebrza National park going up in flames, the same as 9000 football fields
- On average, 65000 fires occur in Europe each year, burning approximately half a million hectares (930000 football fields) of wildland and forest areas. Over 85% is in the Mediterranean region.
Since these nature reserves are often home to a number of endangered animal and plant species, it becomes crucial to quickly identify these fires to prevent acres of precious nature and wildlife being destroyed.
First responders such as firefighters in the European Union are called upon for different situations. They need to be well-equipped to face all the challenges that come with wildfires, traffic accidents, search and rescue operations, and other incidents.
Firefighting drones in the EU
Drones have the potential to assist firefighters and help save lives. In the EU, firefighters have started to adopt drones massively. The implementation of drones by fire brigades already began in 2015. Since then, local fire brigades have started to plug in (short-range) quadcopter drones into their daily operations to enhance their situational awareness by providing real-time data.
In 2016, Denmark & Ireland had already implemented their first fire brigade drone trials. First responders were trained to work with quadcopters in cooperation with the European Emergency Number Association (EENA). This NGO, who also installed the 112 hotline in the EU, cooperated with the Greater Copenhagen Fire Department to use drones to create situational awareness during chemical accidents and larger car accidents.
In the Czech Republic and Croatia different pilot projects around the use of firefighting drones have started to pick up. In the Czech Republic, Skoda sponsored it’s own fire fighting department to showcase the latest technologies for fire brigades. In Croatia, a pilot project around airspace management in cooperation with national fire brigades has been running successfully. The first responders in these projects have safely integrated drones into their operations through existing Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) systems.
Current operations using drones have shown to work well for situational awareness. However, a research from Skybound Rescuer demonstrated that there can be deployment issues when the incident is not range for the quadcopters. Having the drone team drive to the scene, set up the drones and do checks on scene rather than simply deploying the drone from the fire station, can become somewhat inefficient and resources could be used more effectively.
The future of firefighting operations: long-range drones
Over time, firefighter drone operations have become more and more complex. Firefighter missions are expected to professionalize, as Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) flights become more regular and the first professional drone teams start to take shape. Innovations such as the use of VTOL (Vertical Takeoff and Landing) fixed-wing drones can support firefighters even more. Due to the efficiency of their wings, these drones have longer range and have the ability to monitor larger areas by flying autonomous missions on a regular basis.
Long-range drones equipped with a camera payload, provide additional situational awareness to firefighters on the ground, keeping them safe and well informed. They can give additional support by tracking wildfire hotspots and monitoring safe zones during rapidly developing wildfires. This enables firefighters to have early-warning signals to quickly discover wildfires, and provides them with real-time information during the evaluation of post-disaster areas that have been struck by natural disasters such as wildfires.
Since every second counts for firefighters, drones with the capacity to add ‘sense’ or FLIR (thermal imaging) camera payloads to quickly identify fires and critically analyse the situation are extremely valuable. In the coming years, drones with modular payloads and long-range capabilities, such as the Avy Aera, will be used more and more. In contrast to portable quadcopters, fixed-wing drones can be used to cover a longer range. This enables rapid response times and advanced situational awareness in real-time.
From the time the dispatch centre declares an emergency, every minute counts to assess a given situation. It’s crucial to find out what happened, how many people need help and what assistance the survivors need. One way that can help firefighters gain rapid response time is by incorporating drone stations into operations. If you haven’t read about our drone-in-a-box solution, the concept behind it is simple: a smart box that can monitor the health of your drone, recharge it and deploy it autonomously from a command centre.
In the near future, our aircraft will be able to take off autonomously from the station and be managed from a centralised command centre without the need to dispatch drone teams firefighters currently have and allocate resources more effectively.
Demo flight to detect heat source for CHC & Dutch Fire brigade
In The Netherlands, a collaboration is underway between CHC and the Veiligheidsregio Noord-Holland Noord (Safety region North Holland) with Avy as technological partner, to explore potential drone corridors for wildfire prevention in nature reserves situated in The Netherlands.
As stated by Niels van Roon, maintenance officer & avionics engineer at CHC Helicopter,
“Drone technology can contribute to a fast, safe provision of information about potentially dangerous situations. This real-time information is available to firefighters on site and at command posts, to combat and prevent natural fires more effectively”
We demonstrated what a possible use case could look like: deploy a drone to detect possible signs of any wildfires in the nearby dunes and nature reserve. The Avy Aera equipped with the (infrared) NightHawk 2 gimbal camera from Next Vision is launched from the command post for prevention purposes, and arrives on scene to help detect sources of heat and give real-time visual information to the firefighters en route. Check it out in this video.
Want to learn more about drones for first response operations or our dronestation solution? Check our first response page or reach out to us and we'll be more than happy to provide you with more information at email@example.com.
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