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Volunteer Eye In The Sky

davidzimagery

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Over 20 years ago, I was a volunteer firefighter in a small nearby community for 18 years. For 9 of those years, I was the Operations Officer which included being the videographer/photographer. I moved into a neighboring district, which is incidentally, my home town. I never got back into the fire service, but have continued my photography passion. Now I'm into drones, and got my Part 107 certification. Recently, I was in a position to witness an out of control grass fire, that had surrounded the house and had gotten into some of the outbuildings. The incident command was the district in which I now live, and I know the chief and many of the firefighters quite well. I could see that an aerial view would be beneficial, but wasn't going to fly without permission of the command officer. I did talk to the now chief of the department I'd been on years ago. He rightly told me he couldn't authorize it, since it wasn't his scene, and he didn't attempt to talk to the scene commander. I wasn't about to walk into the smoke and activity of an active fire, to get permission. So I departed the area, without flying. Now, I'm considering talking to the chiefs of the 3 nearby towns, about volunteering my services as I'm available to recon fires, rescues and searches. I would think some sort of written authorization would be in order, in case a law enforcement officer questions me, and for liability purposes. My purpose of this story, is to put this idea out there for comment, advice or cautions. One thing I've thought of is night fires. I know it's against the rules to fly at night, and not even sure if a blanket waiver is possible for night flying. At this point, I don't have any way to be dispatched, so this would only occur, if I happened to be aware of these calls.
 

BigAl07

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Good morning David.

When you went through the process to get your Part 107 did you ever read about ~107.29 Daylight Operations Waiver? This would allow you, the Part 107 RPIC, to operate after outside of Daylight and Civil Twilight times.
Below are the criteria for operating outside of Daylight and Civil Twilight (in addition to needing the Waiver)
You can fly during daylight or in twilight (30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset, local time) with appropriate anti-collision lighting. Minimum weather visibility is three miles from your control station. The maximum allowable altitude is 400 feet above the ground, and higher if your drone remains within 400 feet of a structure. The maximum speed is 100 mph (87 knots).

Contacting the Dept Heads is a great way to start but don't be disappointed if they are against it entirely. While many departments are now seeing the VALUE in sUAS in Public Safety many are still not comfortable with the technology or the liability that goes along with it. When you introduce "Drones" into Public Safety you have to make sure to get John Q. Public on board BEFORE the program is put into action. If you don't you risk creating doubt and concern with them about the intended use of the technology. Many departments have had their program grounded because public sentiment was not positive after the fact. The Department's Media Campaign must be well out in front of the program to demonstrate and ensure transparency. Also don't be surprised when the Dept's legal rep gets involved and requires credentials, insurance and flight logs before allowing someone outside of the agency to fly on a scene.

On a local level here our Emergency Services will not allow "just anyone" to fly on a scene. You have to be a part of the "Group" and train with them in order to "work" with them. This includes certain minimums in terms of ICS training etc. Also they require a Part 107 operation to carry their own liability insurance to be on-scene with sUAS.

I'm not speaking from a hypothetical stand point on this one... I'm speaking from first hand experience for the last few years doing exactly this type of thing. I tell you this so you don't get your hopes up and get disappointed "if" they aren't interested.

Be sure to report back and let us know what you find out.
 

davidzimagery

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Good morning David.

When you went through the process to get your Part 107 did you ever read about ~107.29 Daylight Operations Waiver? This would allow you, the Part 107 RPIC, to operate after outside of Daylight and Civil Twilight times.
Below are the criteria for operating outside of Daylight and Civil Twilight (in addition to needing the Waiver)
You can fly during daylight or in twilight (30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset, local time) with appropriate anti-collision lighting. Minimum weather visibility is three miles from your control station. The maximum allowable altitude is 400 feet above the ground, and higher if your drone remains within 400 feet of a structure. The maximum speed is 100 mph (87 knots).

Contacting the Dept Heads is a great way to start but don't be disappointed if they are against it entirely. While many departments are now seeing the VALUE in sUAS in Public Safety many are still not comfortable with the technology or the liability that goes along with it. When you introduce "Drones" into Public Safety you have to make sure to get John Q. Public on board BEFORE the program is put into action. If you don't you risk creating doubt and concern with them about the intended use of the technology. Many departments have had their program grounded because public sentiment was not positive after the fact. The Department's Media Campaign must be well out in front of the program to demonstrate and ensure transparency. Also don't be surprised when the Dept's legal rep gets involved and requires credentials, insurance and flight logs before allowing someone outside of the agency to fly on a scene.

On a local level here our Emergency Services will not allow "just anyone" to fly on a scene. You have to be a part of the "Group" and train with them in order to "work" with them. This includes certain minimums in terms of ICS training etc. Also they require a Part 107 operation to carry their own liability insurance to be on-scene with sUAS.

I'm not speaking from a hypothetical stand point on this one... I'm speaking from first hand experience for the last few years doing exactly this type of thing. I tell you this so you don't get your hopes up and get disappointed "if" they aren't interested.

Be sure to report back and let us know what you find out.
Very valid points. Being a rural area with these small town departments, there isn't a lot of formality. But there are laws and guidelines that even they have to follow. The local public is familiar and positive with my photography and drone work. I'm considering doing this as a service to my local communities. It was something I was once quite involved with and enjoyed doing. I don't expect compensation. I see it as more of a benefit to them than me, so I'm not out anything if they're not on board.
 

LUIS MARTINEZ

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Very valid points. Being a rural area with these small town departments, there isn't a lot of formality. But there are laws and guidelines that even they have to follow. The local public is familiar and positive with my photography and drone work. I'm considering doing this as a service to my local communities. It was something I was once quite involved with and enjoyed doing. I don't expect compensation. I see it as more of a benefit to them than me, so I'm not out anything if they're not on board.
Recall back when you were a firefighter. Think about how you would likely react towards untrained citizens offering to try out some new fangled device on your fire...right?
Join the FD as a trained volunteer and UAS pilot and offer your expertise. I retired in 2013 after 32 years as a cop, began my UAS business in 2015. Last year I was approached by the chief of a PD in a city of 50K. I volunteer to train their 6 pilots to pass the 107 exam and wrote all policies and a 50 page operations manual. I am their Chief UAS Pilot and a card-carrying member of the police dept. There are ways for us old retreads to still serve...

And I get to fly a dual camera (Z3/XT) Matrice 600 !!!! and log heavy hexacopter hours in my logbook. :D
 

davidzimagery

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If that's how one or all of the chiefs want to handle it, I would join the department in the district in which I live. In that case, I would also think I might have some sort of communication for dispatch and perhaps for during calls...as I did when I was on the volunteer department before. Like I mentioned, it's much more informal here These are rural districts with towns of 1500 or less and a district population of around 3000 to 5000 each. For instance, the mutual aid chief I did talk to, said: "I don't give a s__t if you fly it, but it's not my scene. I didn't expect to get his permission. He wasn't real busy at the time, and thought he might help me get it. But, I also understand that the scene commander was busy enough, and probably didn't need any more distractions. So, I will probably at least discuss it with my local chief at a time when he's not up to his neck in smoke and fire. They know my background, abilities, and integrity,
And that's pretty much what I am too...an old retread...but not dead, and I want to keep it that way for a while. My days of donning an air pack and dragging 2 1/2" fire hose around are in the distant past. My experience is why I didn't press the issue, or proceed into the scene to find another opinion. It wasn't critical to the outcome of the situation for me to be involved, but at least I offered the service. I remember how helpful it was for us to review the photos and videos of working events and investigations that I took back in the day.
 

MapMaker53

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Just a suggestion as to a way you can get them used to having a drone operator on the team... I would imagine even small town FDs must conduct fire-fighting training sessions a few times a year. Maybe offer to film the outdoor sessions from an aerial vantage point as a way to review and evaluate both team and individual performance afterwards.
 

davidzimagery

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That is certainly another way to work into it. They pretty much have a routine of weekly training sessions, plus multi department, mutual aid training a few times a year. I could be a busy guy, if they want to pursue this.
 
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rvrrat14

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I’ve recently done the same thing. I’m past Asst. Chief, Pvt Pilot, and now Part 107. When I began my drone business I handed business cards out around town and to PD and FD.

Took several months, but did get a call back and a meeting with both chiefs. From small town, around 7000, @ 75000 in county. For liability reasons, I rejoined the FD as a ‘support’ asset. FD is volunteer with some paid members.

You need some sort of ID or work authorization from FD to prove to FAA inspectors you are legitmately flying for FD operations. I was issued a FD ID badge.

Initial meeting with PD/FD, I offered examples of how a drone/aerial support is beneficial. Training, Search and Rescue, Overwatch, Firefighting reconnisance, Hazardous cargo inspection at coach scenes, Traffic overview during accidents, to name a few.

PD ops are different. I haven’t flown for them yet, but there are all sorts of things the average person may not need to see. Surveillance issues, court appearances, legal issues, etc. If they call me, I will certainly entertain questions to the city attorney as well as the local FSDO UAS specialist. There are things that you can fly for PD ‘safely’. Overview at parades, special events, disasters, emergency management ops, missing persons.

We’re still at the beginning, but have visited a nearby large dept that has a drone program. Lots of good info from these folks and willing to help. I like the opportunity to bounce ideas off of other pilots.

Remember, local FSDO resources and use them.
 

R.Perry

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I have talked to CDF and our local volunteer chief, and in our area whenever there is a fire CDF overflys and directs tankers for fire retardant drops. The last thing they want around a fire is a drone. The guys flying the S2s drop pretty low, and well below 400 feet.
We have already had people attempting to fly drones during fires without permission and unlicensed so it has left a poor impression especially with the CDF folks. If a drone is spotted then the tankers are not allowed to drop until the drone is removed.
The area I'm speaking of is the California foothills and Sierras. The CDF spotter has a birds eye view of the fire and directs the ground crews to where their needed.
 

rvrrat14

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My area is not mountainous and lends itself well for aerial recon.

I can see where manned and unmanned must work together. We will use helos for water drops on large fires. The helos are on freq with the FD. Their primary is water drops; secondary is recon between drops. They burn lots of fuel and usually don’t stay on scene long.

The unmanned aircraft will quickly fill that void for ‘eyes in the sky’. Refueling (battery charge) a drone can occur on scene during flights and allow the drone to stay aloft in the AO as long as need be or legal.
 

R.Perry

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Don't misunderstand me, I think drones could play a tremendous roll during fires, as long as it is coordinated with or managed by the fire department. As you stated, operational cost of a helicopter is pretty high. We do use some helicopters here, but mostly air tankers. CDF has taken some of the old Navy sub chasers and converted them to tankers, mainly the S2 better known as the stuff, and the P2-Neptune. The S2s have been converted from recips to turboprops.
 

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