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Hazmat Response Takes to the Skies in Northern Colorado

Hazmat Response Takes to the Skies in Northern Colorado

By Kerry Koppes

Poudre Fire Authority, (PFA) in Fort Collins, Colo., has begun testing of UAS-based hazardous materials hardware, designed to send gas and radiation detectors to places their typically ground-based equipment hasn’t gone before: the skies.

The PFA UAS and Hazardous Materials teams recently purchased a Stinger Drone Mount from FLYMOTION US that is designed to lift 4-Gas and Radiation detectors with the Inspire 1 (v2) drone. The mount allows UAS and HazMat personnel to fly detectors well above or around a scene via drone. In an elevated position, they can monitor for hazardous materials that are airborne as a result of a spill, release, fire or accident. This allows access to a location where it has traditionally been difficult, cost-prohibitive or impossible (due to safety considerations) to perform high-level monitoring without calling in manned aircraft with appropriate technology.

In mid-January, members of the PFA UAS team performed shake-down flights with the equipment with good results. In order to cut weight, the DJI Zenmuse X3 camera/gimbal was used versus the X5, which is generally flown on PFA’s aircraft. Pilots noted minimal, diminishing flight characteristics, a slight shift in CG and that the typically nimble Inspire has to be flown with slightly slower, more deliberate movements.

DJI Inspire flying radiation meter.

Pilots used the DJI Go app for flight control, and the software indicated no issues. The detectors used for testing were the Canberra Radiation Monitor and QRAE II, both of which were easily mounted in the bracket. The bracket efficiently kept the detector screens oriented so as to be visible from the camera. The sunshine glare was somewhat problematic with the QRAE screen, but PFA personnel will be testing anti-glare film to mitigate.

DJI Inspire UAS fitted with combustible gas detector.

PFA pilots and HazMat team members will soon test the effects of prop wash from drones on monitor accuracy; this will include the use of sampling tubes to combat negative results. They also intend to test wireless capable monitors with the Stinger mount, to send detector data via telemetry versus having to use the drone camera.

Kerry Koppes and Frank Dreckman, both FAA licensed Remote Pilots at PFA who are testing this new equipment, noted the technology has the potential to exponentially increase the effectiveness of the drone program and give a lift to hazmat and fire responses while providing better, real-time situational awareness in unfolding incidents. The overall intent of fire-based drone applications is to perform the three D’s (dull, dangerous or dirty work) without having to put personnel in positions that may compromise their safety, Koppes said. He added that this mount allows drone resources to meet this intent with an unmanned aircraft, versus risking life and limb of responders.

PFA’s UAS team is a partner agency of the Larimer County Unmanned Aircraft Systems (LCUAS) team, which is an inter-agency, public safety drone team formally launched in 2017 to put affordable and safe aerial assets in the hands of Northern Colorado fire, rescue, search and rescue and law enforcement professionals. More information about the program is available on the team’s website: www.larimeruas.com or in a previously published article on Public Safety Flight’s website.

About Steve Rhode

Steve is an experienced and certificated UAS pilot and aircraft instrument rated pilot. He is also the Chief Pilot with the Wake Forest Fire Department.