Moving Towards Unmanned Aerial Systems to Increase Firefighter Safety

LAFD Photo by Harry Garvin
UAS could be used above structure fires, similar to this 2017 Westlake major emergency fire. Photo by Harry Garvin
Innovation has always been a driving focus of the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD). The Board of Fire Commissioners today ensured that tradition will continue when it approved a Unmanned Aerial Systems report aimed at increasing firefighter safety. If approved by the City Council in the coming weeks, the report allows the LAFD to be one of the first major metropolitan departments to obtain a federal certificate authorization to own and operate unmanned aerial vehicles, better known as drones.
Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas described the groundbreaking proposal as a technological advance that will “increase firefighter safety by increasing situational awareness.”
The report follows a 2016 City Council motion asking the Department to study the feasibility of such a program. Since then, a broad cross section representing different facets of the Department met and studied the issue. The internal committee consisted of members from the Fire Chief’s office, Emergency and Administrative Operations, In-Service Training and Support Division, Air Operations and the Community Liaison Office. 
The multi-pronged committee allowed the Department to have a 360-degree view of potential issues, concerns and mitigations. While the Commission approval is the first step in its public process, some of its key findings detailed in the report include:
  • The UAS will not be used to monitor or provide surveillance for law enforcement purposes;
  • The Department UAS will only be operated by trained, certified and licensed members in both operational and observational capacities;
  • Department UAS operators must be federally and locally certified;
  • UAS operations will be focused on protecting firefighters and those the Department serves either through training or at active incidents;
The report also addressed an array of concerns from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), taking great care to relay that any launch of UAS by Department staff will be done within strict parameters by trained professionals and only for LAFD-related incidents and events. 
Any Department UAS will not be operational if LAFD or other public safety agency helicopters are  in the air. The Department continues to caution those operating amatuer hobbyist drones against flying them anywhere near active incidents. 
Creating technology to increase firefighter safety is nothing new. In 1900, the  Department owned “18 firehouses each mirroring local architecture and all thoroughly equipped with the latest modern appliances, to enable the men to make quick response to all alarms.” according to this LAFD history article.
The tradition continues today, marching toward a safer city.
Read the whole report below:

Unmanned Aerial Systems Report by LAFD  

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