Friday, November 17, 2023

To bolster rural emergency response, fire departments are deploying drones as a helpful 'eye in the sky'

Kale Geiswite of New Berlin Fire Company flies a
drone. (Photo by Matt Jones, The Standard-Journal)
While some drones have been known to start fires -- intentionally and unintentionally -- they also are being used by rural volunteer fire departments, such as in Pennslyvania, to help emergency responders have "an eye in the sky," reports Matt Jones of The Standard-Journal, which covers central Pennsylvania. Paul Vavra, a chief pilot of the drone program at the Duboistown Fire Department, told Jones: "We started our program about six years ago here at Duboistown. . . At that point, we were the only ones in Lycoming, Tioga and Sullivan County doing drone work for fire, rescue, EMS and law enforcement, other than the state police."

Since then, more counties have purchased or received donated drones to bolster emergency responder support. "In 2022, Kale Geiswite of the New Berlin Fire Company in Union County put in a request to the National Public Safety Drone Donation Program. He said the department was looking for a drone with thermal capabilities that could be used to respond to residential structure fires, wildfires and search and rescues throughout the tri-county area of Union, Snyder and Northumberland counties," Jones reports. Geiswite told Jones: "We made a video about how we were trying to start a drone program and what we were looking to do with it. Within four months, Duboistown reached out. .  .They donated our first drone."

The National Fire Protection Association, under code 2400, "provides standards for small unmanned aircraft systems that establishes 'minimum requirements for the safe operation, deployment, and implementation of sUAS including organization program criteria and considerations, professional qualifications for safety personnel, and elements of a maintenance program, per the organization's website," Jones writes. However, local departments have to develop their own protocols for volunteer training and drone dispatch requirements.

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