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Thermal imaging photo.
New drone offers sky-high opportunities for Hoodland Fire posted on 04/01/2018

Hoodland Fire District (HFD) Battalion Chief Pat McAbery offered an example of when a drone helped a public agency at the top of his head: the Bureau of Land Management had a fire running toward a station last year and used a drone to spot when the fire jumped a road, helping them stop it before losing any infrastructure. And in the HFD, the possibilities are also easy to identify: aerial reconnaissance of fires, floods, trail rescues, hazardous materials incidents and more; offering real time information performed with safety in mind.

And now, thanks to a donation from FLIR International, the district has a multi-role drone with infrared state-of-the-art technology and three thermal imaging cameras at its disposal.

“It is a growing trend in the industry,” McAbery said, adding that there are likely a number of scenarios where a drone will be useful that he can’t even think of now. “It’s an amazingly capable machine.”

McAbery is a certified commercial drone pilot by the Federal Aviation Administration and noted the district is hoping to train up to five members, both career staff and volunteers, to be operators. The drone pilots will need training in numerous areas, including being able to read charts on airspace (although there is no airspace restrictions in the district, there could be when firefighters are deployed to incidents outside the district) and getting familiar with the controls, as directing a drone left or right would depend on its orientation in relation to the operator.

The drone is an Inspire 1, a mid-sized one made by DJI, with the camera donated by FLIR. The drone is also set up to be dual operated, with one pilot and another firefighter able to run the camera.

“If this proves to be really good for us, the new ones have sensors so they don’t run into things, get signals that an airplane is coming by,” McAbery said, adding that the district purchased a couple of inexpensive drones for people to train on.

McAbery noted that when operating the drone, it needs to be in the pilot’s line of sight the entire time and cannot exceed 400 feet in altitude.

“It’s a short distance thing,” he said. “We will come to a scene, take it out of its box and operate it from there.”

“I think these are incredible assets to our communities and keeps Hoodland Fire on the cutting edge of public safety,” added HFD Chief John Ingrao in an email to the Mountain Times.

By Garth Guibord/MT

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