In recent months, drones (UAVs) have become a hot topic, and not just for fire services. Be it the shutdowns of airports, the new EU directive, or due to their support in fighting the current pandemic.

Rosenbauer CFT with droneHere at Rosenbauer, we have also been working on the issue of how and in what shape or form this new technology can support fire brigades and civil protection authorities for a number of years. This ranges from attempts to extinguish a fire using a drone in 2017 to our participation in some comparative presentations and self-testing.

A lot has changed in recent years, with great developments made in the field of UAVs. And due to this, the importance of drones and the significant benefits they bring during operations is no longer in question, as a wide variety of examples attest to. For example, drones are used in search and rescue activities, disaster situations, and in operations with hazardous substances. They have had a highly positive impact on the outcomes of such missions, saving the emergency services valuable time and resources along the way.

Nevertheless, there are still unanswered questions that need to be pointed out and addressed before drones can be used across the board.

 

What is the legal situation regarding flying drones in an emergency scenario?

Despite the new EU directive, this depends on the country, and will therefore not be an easy question to answer in the near future. Some countries, such as Germany, already have clear rules. Austria is currently working on theirs (Court of Audit report “Drones in Civil Aviation”, January 2020), and in the US most drones are currently prohibited. This shows that legislators are still uncertain as to how to deal with this topic. At this time, the only option is to apply for an exemption.

However, we are certain that due to the great benefits that drones bring to operations, the legislators will work on adopting suitable regulations soon. It is just a matter of time.

 

Which drone is right for me?

Comparative demonstrations and the feedback from operational organizations with experience in utilizing drones all lead to the same recommendation – flexible standard products should be used. The broad selection of additional loads and sensors available for these devices greatly increases the drone’s scope of application, maximizing the added benefit.

Another advantage that cannot easily be overlooked is the high level of operational readiness, since no special configurations are required. Because a resource has to be able to work at all times of the day and night. Some large drone manufacturers, such as DJI, have already started to include professional drone product lines by improving their consumer products and making them more durable. These come particularly recommended for emergency services.

DJI drone and Rosenbauer CFTAnd it is for this reason that we have decided to enter into a global development partnership with the market leader DJI. In particular, with the new DJI Matrice 300 RTK, a drone was brought onto the market with IP45 protection (flight in rain and snow possible), an extended flight time of up to 55 minutes, and one of the simplest control systems available, making it perfect for operations by public safety authorities and organizations.

The biggest missing piece of the puzzle in our studies was video display on an external device screen that is larger than a smartphone. By fully integrating these drones into our digital solutions, we managed to display the live stream on an unlimited number of mobile devices and also on a large monitor (e.g. in a control center) simultaneously, with features including real-time coordinates in a uniform system.

 

What crew must be in place in order for a drone to be considered a sensible purchase?

This is a question that’s easy to answer: essentially, anyone who held a remote control in their hand during their childhood or youth is able to fly a drone. Due to the unbelievable efforts of manufacturers in regard to development in recent years, it is now incredibly easy for anyone – young or old – to start up and fly a drone. Don’t be afraid to try it for yourself! We’re sure you’ll enjoy it.

After completing the drone pilot license (day-long course & exam) and some exercises, just about everyone can fly a drone and operate it in an emergency situation. Whether you’re an experienced firefighter in the control center or a young rescue worker: using drones is definitely not “rocket science.”

 

Our conclusion

Drones in the fire serviceIn our opinion, drones are no longer a thing of the future. Many authorities already use them, and for many they have already become indispensable in everyday work. Due to huge developments in recent years, drones have managed to make the leap from the gadget sector into the specialized professional field.

However, what has to be considered when purchasing is the use of standard hardware that is specially tailored to the needs of public safety authorities and organizations. What needs to be taken into account is not only the flight time, but also the weather conditions in which a drone can be deployed. A high-resolution and large display of a video image is also necessary in order to be able to optimally assess the situation on the ground. These tasks should not be the responsibility of the drone pilot.

As soon as legislators have adopted the EU guidelines and regulations for emergency services, drones bearing equipment such as thermal imaging cameras and aerial ladders will become standard in operations.