It is one of the most dangerous jobs there is, yet everyday men and women put their lives at risk to fight fires and save others. But one fire-fighting force in the UK has decided to put technology to use to reduce the risks and improve support in emergencies.
The Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) launched a new AIR Unit in July this year. AIR – or Aerial Imagery Reconnaissance – is a drone controlled by a team of pilots trained to provide firefighters on the ground with high definition and infrared real-time images. The drone used by GMFRS can fly for at least 35 minutes on a single charge at a maximum height of 130m.
“[The AIR Unit] has several objectives while in flight, the most important of which is to monitor the safety of firefighters on the ground by spotting hidden dangers,” says the unit’s lead pilot, watch manager Chris Rainford. “It also allows us to send a camera into situations that would be extremely dangerous for firefighters, such as collapsed structures or hazardous materials incidents.”
The footage gives those in charge better information about fast-moving situations – such as fires, burned out buildings, floods and road accidents – and helps the commander plan strategy and make decisions quickly, adds Rainford. “The unit is extremely helpful in providing a unique bird’s eye view of an incident, which incident commanders have never had before,” he says.
The fire service’s AIR Unit has also teamed up with local police to help find people reported missing; the drone’s search capability is 20 times faster than humans can do, according to GMFRS.
Drone footage is also useful after the fact. Video of real-life incidents captured by the quadcopter can be used as training material for the service’s men and women. By improving safety and providing firefighters with real-time information, it really is drones to the rescue.