> Safety from above

New ambulance drone can save lives

Graduate student Alec Momont of TU Delft has designed an unmanned, autonomously navigating mini aeroplane that can quickly deliver a defibrillator to where it is needed. A network of such drones could significantly increase the chance of survival following a cardiac arrest: from 8% to 80%!

With a livestream video and audio connection, the drone can also provide direct feedback to the emergency services and the persons on site can be instructed how to treat the patient. ‘Currently, only 20% of untrained people are able to successfully apply a defibrillator,’ says Momont. ‘This rate can be increased to 90% if people are provided with instructions at the scene. Further, the presence of the emergency operator via the drone's loudspeaker helps to reduce the panic of the situation.'

‘It is essential that the right medical care is provided within the first few

minutes of a cardiac arrest,’ says Alec Momont. ‘If we can get to an emergency scene faster we can save many lives and facilitate the recovery of many patients. This especially applies to emergencies such as heart failure, drownings, traumas and respiratory problems, and it has become possible because life-saving technologies, such as a defibrillator, can now be designed small enough to be transported by a drone.'

The drone finds the patient's location via the caller's mobile phone signal and makes it’s way there using GPS. The drone can fly at around 100 km/h, weighs 4 kg and can carry another 4 kg.

Momont developed the ambulance drone in collaboration with the Belgian innovation platform Living Tomorrow, which helped to fund the project. The next steps towards the development and implementation of the prototype are presently being considered together with Ghent University Hospital and Ghent University, both partners in Living Tomorrow. Momont is also connected with the Amsterdam Ambulance Service.

Monitoring fires with UAV’s

When a fire broke out at the Stony Creek Quarry last January firefighters worried that things could get ugly, real ugly. Explosives for a blasting company were being stored at the quarry, near where the fire broke out, but no one knew just how close the flames were. If the explosives ignited, the destruction could be devastating, even deadly.

As black smoke from the fire rose into the sky above the quarry, personnel from the state bomb squad, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and firefighters from Guilford and North Branford converged on the scene. Fearful that the blaze might set off the explosives they secured a one-mile perimeter around the site and deemed it too dangerous to send fire-fighters in to control the blaze.

That’s when Peter Sachs, a volunteer firefighter and drone advocate, came, or flew, to the rescue. Sachs offered to use his drone to survey the site and see how close the blaze was to the explosives. The drone has a camera that connects wirelessly to Sachs iPhone and provides a live view of what the drone is “seeing.” With Branford Fire Chief Jack Ahern looking over his shoulder Sachs flew the drone above the blaze, allowing Ahern to see exactly where the fire was. As a result of this drone's-eye view, Ahern was able to determine the fire was far enough away from the explosives that it was safe to send fire-fighters in.

The incident attracted a great deal of local and national press. Afterward Ahern told the New Haven Register that his department would look into purchasing a drone. Sachs says the incident demonstrates something he’s been saying for a while, that personal drones are an exciting new technology that can be useful, often extremely useful.

Fire-fighters and the benefits of using drones/UAV’s

An off-duty BFD Firefighter Keith Muratori, who is also a drone pilot and photographer, recently deployed his drone at a multiple alarm fire that destroyed a historic restaurant/pub in New Haven, Connecticut. Below is the drone video from that fire:



Drone use does not come without some debate and potential legal concerns. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) purports to ban the use of drones for any purpose other than pure hobby and recreation unless it has granted some authority to use one.

Using a drone to assist with firefighting is not considered hobby or recreation. Therefore, according to the FAA, it is illegal for any fire service to use a drone for any purpose unless they first obtain a Certificate of Authority which, as of this writing, has never been issued to any fire service. However, the FAA has also never pursued any enforcement action against any fire department for using a drone.

The FAA’s stance on drones has received much criticism from the nation’s drone community. In August, Sachs, the founder of the Drone Pilots Association and one of the nation’s few drone attorneys, joined others affected by the FAA’s ban in Federal lawsuits against the FAA. Those suits challenge the legality of the FAA’s claimed authority over drones. It will take at least six months before those cases will be decided and, depending on the decision, an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is possible.

I caution all departments that may consider purchasing a drone to seek opinion of their local town or city attorney before investing in equipment that may end up sitting on a shelf in an office.

Drone use will become widely accepted and practiced in the days and years ahead. However, the fire service, as it always does, will become the jacks of all trades, taking on greater responsibility and, often, fighting a different enemy with fewer personnel than ever before.

We must not become so technology-focused that we forget about the most important thing we have: our firefighters operating on the scene. As it is with all technology, when used properly, drones can enhance everything we do. When used properly, technology can have a positive impact on firefighter safety, fireground tactics, training, and many other operational scenarios in emergency and nonemergency tasks.

Firefighting Drones Tested at U.S. Air Force Base

Earlier this month, an industry team from Lockheed Martin and Kaman conducted what it said was a successful demonstration of a Kaman K-Max helicopter fitted with a Lockheed unmanned mission/sensor suite at Griffiss Air Force Base, in Rome, New York, one of six FAA-approved test sites for drones.


Earlier this month, the team conducted what it said was a successful demonstration of a Kaman K-Max helicopter fitted with a Lockheed unmanned mission/sensor suite at Griffiss Air Force Base, in Rome, New York, one of six FAA-approved test sites for drones.

According to Dan Spoor, VP of Aviation and Unmanned Systems at Lockheed Martin's Mission Systems and Training business, the K-Max delivered, without a human being guiding it to target, firefighting supplies to designated areas as well as extinguish a controlled fire in a cut-out propane tank.

"In over a period of an hour … we were able to dump 24,000 lbs of water, or about 3000 gallons, on the fire," Spoor stated, adding that the helicopter can stay in the air for 2.5 hours before it needs to refuel.

Aiding the unmanned firefighting effort was a small Indago quadcopter remotely piloted by an operator in the vicinity. "We put it up 200-300 feet above the airfield, and it provided situational awareness, identified where the fire was," Spoor said. This data was then transmitted to the K-MAX controller.


The Indago quadcopter has a gimbaled daytime and FLIR Quark infrared sensor to detect hot spots, which are then geo-referenced via GPS. In the demonstration, there was a pond on the other side of the airfield whose location was already programmed into the unmanned K-Max's mission module.

Once it had the location of the fire, along with the pond, the K-Max could go scoop up water, 500 gallons at a time, and drop it on the hot spot. "It knew based on its height and speed when to release the water," he said, "and it was geo-referenced into its flight pattern where the water would need to land to put the fire out."

The Department of the Interior currently uses manned K-Max helicopters to fight fires. However, they are mostly reserved for use during the day because "the risk to pilots flying at night is just too high," department spokesperson Jessica Kershaw noted. Likewise, fog and cloudy conditions can ground pilots.

In addition, pilots need timeouts in order to operate an aircraft safely. "The pilots have to spend a certain amount down before they can go up again," Spoor said. The idea is to fly normal K-Max helicopters for 8 hours during the day and then have the unmanned helicopter run 8-16 hours at night. This arrangement "will more than double the amount of time any given aircraft will be available to support the firefighters on the ground," Kershaw stated.

The Marine Corps' unmanned K-Max helicopters wrapped up their deployment in July. But the Lockheed team has been demonstrating a new concept for the Office of Naval Research's Autonomous Aerial Cargo/Utility System (AACUS) program.

Using a K-Max as the test bed, the team has tested a sensor/navigation suite that enables an unmanned helicopter to go beyond highly scripted point-to-point auto-flight and, instead, assess of its own the environment before determining where and if to land.

Spoor says there are no plans right now to bring that more autonomous capability to firefighting. Rather, they are proceeding at more incremental pace. Next spring, the team test the unmanned K-Max's ability to lay lines of fire retardant and "how much an additional value that brings," Spoor said.