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Drones Used for First Time Ever by L.A. Fire Department

BY Zacc Dukowitz
13 December 2017

For the first time ever drones are being used by the Los Angeles Fire Department in their efforts to combat the tremendous wildfires that have been ravaging the city and surrounding areas.

The drones will be used mainly to perform assessments of the property damage that’s been done by the Creek Fire near Sylmar and the Skirball Fire in the Bel Air and Sepulveda Pass, both in the L.A. area.

The drone will fly over, locate hotspots, and then we’ll dispatch our firefighters to get final extinguishment in that area. We’re very, very proud of that new technology.

– Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas

Last Thursday L.A. firefighters flew drones over the Skirball fire in the first ever flights performed “in an operational environment” (as opposed to training and test environments).

LAFD To Deploy Heat-Seeking Drones To Search For Hot Spots

For safety reasons, the fire department will not use drones at the same time as other fire fighting aircraft.

On the same note, just a reminder that drone pilots in the area should avoid flying at all unless working directly with the authorities overseeing the firefighting effort. More on why this is so important can be found in our article on the If You Fly, We Can’t educational effort to spread awareness among drone pilots about the dangers of flying during ongoing firefighting operations.

The L.A. Fire Department’s Drone Program

The L.A. Fire Department’s drone program is headed up by Derrick Ward, a Drone Pilot Ground School alum who was recently featured in our article, From Free Flights to $250 an Hour: How Derrick Ward Built Hot Shots Aerial Photography.

We already have a group of firefighters FAA-certified to fly drones, and soon drones will be helping with structure and brush fires, and with accidents, water rescues, and a lot more. The L.A. drone program is going to be one of the biggest in the world.

– Derrick Ward, Los Angeles City Fire Department

The L.A. Fire Department provides fire prevention and firefighting for 4 million people, which is a massive responsibility. By ushering in the use of drones, L.A. will become a model for how other cities can incorporate drones into their own operations.

L.A. Fire Chief Terrazas recently explained that using drones is cost-effective, and that we can expect to see more of them in use by the department in the future. Drones eliminate the need for renting infrared camera and flying helicopters over fires, which means both savings and increased safety for firefighting personnel.

Derrick Ward flying near the Skirball fire in L.A.

Drones were originally proposed for operations in the L.A. Fire Department in late June of this year, and guidelines for their use were approved just last month, in November.

The approval came just in time. With last week’s first flight, the department is putting their drones to good use in collecting vital information to help fight the fires where they are still burning.

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