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Podcast – FDNY Fred Carlson Talks Drones and Lessons Learned

FDNY Lieutenant Fred Carlson started as a fireman on Queens Ladder 151 in November 2006 and has risen through the ranks since then. Promoted to lieutenant at the end of 2019 he now serves as in leadership of the FDNY Command Tactical Unit (the drone program).

Fred comes from a family aviation background. His mother and brother both hold Part 61 pilot certificates. His dad, uncle, and cousin served in the Air Force.

Fred and his pilots fly in some of the busiest airspaces in the United States and have found a way to make things work.

The unit Fred is with manages all sorts of robotics from underwater, ground-based, and airborne.

  • One thing most new pilots don’t know but should.
  • How to filter marketing messages from reality.
  • Words of wisdom for new departments.
  • Thinking about compliance.
  • Tethered drone systems and if they are helpful.
  • What makes someone a good public safety drone pilot.
  • Tips to start a drone program.
  • How to help more people with a flight.
  • The Incident Command App that FDNY uses.
  • What happens when you put a monitor in front of the Incident Commander to watch a drone feed.
  • What the most important skill drone pilots need to develop and it’s not flying.
  • The role of internal public relations for the drone program.
  • How to say it is not safe to fly.
  • Why it is important to avoid flying over people and how to get your drone into position.
  • Visual Observers are mandatory.
  • Integrating manned and unmanned aircraft.
  • The challenges of managing the airspace.
  • Dealing with news helicopters.
  • What is coming to drones in public safety?
  • How to avoid mistakes.
  • Checklists.

Transcript

[00:00:00] Steve Rhode: [00:00:00] Hi, this is Steve Rhode, your friendly chief pilot here at the public safety flight website. Be sure to visit PS flight.org to get in on my private email list, read all the latest posts or ask me all of your public safety, drone questions. That’s PS flight.org. Or if that trips you up, you can land in the right place by using public safety flight.org.

[00:00:26] FDN Y Lieutenant Fred Carlson started as a fireman on Queenslander 1 51 in November of 2006 and has risen through the ranks. He was promoted to Lieutenant at the end of 2019. And he now serves in leadership with the FDN. Why command tactical unit, otherwise known as the drone program. Fred comes from a family of aviation, his mother and brother, both hold part 61 pilots certificates and his dad, uncle and cousin served in the air force.

[00:00:56] So he has a love of aviation, Fred, and his pilots flying in some of the busiest airspace in the United States and found a way to make things work. The unit Fred is with manages all sorts of robotics now from underwater to ground-based. And now airborne, I got a lot of questions for you, but first I just want to welcome you to the podcast.

[00:01:20] Fred Carlson: [00:01:20] Thanks for having me. Steve, I’m happy to be here

[00:01:23] Steve Rhode: [00:01:23] before we dive in. Looking back on your experience with drones and public safety. What is one thing you think most new pilots don’t know that they should.

[00:01:35] Fred Carlson: [00:01:35] Wow. One thing that everybody should know you’re there to serve. I know we have chiefs that want us to get us, visuals on things that are there, but your job is to serve your department and your public.

[00:01:47] And if you’re not flying safely, You’re not serving anyone. Safety is number one. I hate to quote Michael Shay, but slide number one is safety first. And that really is the utmost importance to our program.

[00:02:00] Steve Rhode: [00:02:00] And that’s interesting because in public safety, one of the things I’ve run into being a pilot.

[00:02:06] First, as I tell people, I am the best firefighter in the air and the least competent on the ground, but I have observed a lot of people just get. So mission-focused that they don’t think that. Airborne safety at all. And that’s a, that’s new for people who are just getting into it. And speaking of that, what words of wisdom do you have for any fire department that has been to a conference or had a sales person visit and has the impression that all they have to do is buy a drone and start flying everyday.

[00:02:36]Fred Carlson: [00:02:36] That sounds great. And it doesn’t work that way. I was fortunate enough that when I got into the program command tactical we had a civilian Tim, her locker who had gone through the legwork along with several other people to get us our COA. And we were originally. Able to fly under our COA with the agreement that we were using a tethered system that only went to 200 feet.

[00:02:57] Now, 200 feet is not that much, especially in New York city, but it was better than nothing. So we were able to expand upon that. But if you don’t have your ducks in a row you’re gonna your program is going to be short-lived. I can’t remember which department it was, but somebody was doing just that they had, I think they had an inspire with somewhere out west and they were flying it around.

[00:03:17] And finally, the FAA. What are you doing over there? And that was the end of their program until they could get their ducks in a row. So the back end, which is where I’m now residing as a Lieutenant is administrative. There is a lot of compliance, a lot of safety, a lot of things that need to be thought of and, worked out before you can push your fingers on those sticks and get that drone in the sky.

[00:03:41] Steve Rhode: [00:03:41] Let’s talk about the tether system for a second. I have had experience with one of the issues with the tether system is. You don’t always get the, put it where you need it to be.

[00:03:51] Fred Carlson: [00:03:51] So the New York city fire department we decided, or actually I wasn’t, we, I was not part of this decision, but the drone unit was to respond on all second alarms or greater.

[00:04:00] So a single alarm you’re looking at, four engines, three ladder trucks, two chiefs, and a division chief. You go to a second alarm, double that, and we’re responding out of downtown Brooklyn. Now, anybody that’s ever driven in New York city knows that you can’t get anywhere fast out of downtown Brooklyn.

[00:04:14]If we got a fire that was out in and out of borough like Queens or up in the north Bronx, we’re getting there way late in the game. And the tethered system was unfortunately tied to ground power, or we had to lug around a generator to get it to work. So usually we use the inverter off of. the truck that we had, and we were only as good as close as we could get.

[00:04:34] So getting there that late with that many apparatus, if we were maybe four or five blocks out or off to the side, maybe on the backside on exposure three, we were lucky enough to get a view with our 200 foot limitation. So the tethered system was difficult to get it where we wanted it to go judging by the size of it and the need for ground power.

[00:04:55] Steve Rhode: [00:04:55] So what do you think makes someone a good public safety, drone, pilot?

[00:04:59]Fred Carlson: [00:04:59] I think it comes down to aeronautical decision-making and having a true understanding of what it is that you’re supplying. If you have a chief that doesn’t eat. I’ve had chiefs that look in ego, get that thing out of my area.

[00:05:13] They just don’t understand what things we can bring to the table. And as time has gone on, we’ve gained more respect with the staff chiefs and our fire department, but to be able to to be able to bring something to them that they can finally use and understand has been a wonderful thing for our program.

[00:05:32] Steve Rhode: [00:05:32] It’s almost like you’re reading my notes because my next question for you was I think that one of the larger stumbling blocks to start in a drone program is not the drone flying, but integrating the technology and capabilities into an already established department, operational process. So has that taken you time at FDA and why?

[00:05:53] And do you have any words of wisdom for others on how to do this?

[00:05:57] Fred Carlson: [00:05:57] Absolutely. And it has taken loads of time. And to this day it still takes part of my time. The unfortunate thing is if you don’t look at the bigger picture, you will pigeonhole yourself for lack of a better phrase, the visuals that you’re receiving on your drone.

[00:06:12] If you have no way to disseminate that information, to who it needs to go to. What good is it? Who are you? You’re just a firefighter pushing sticks and looking at a screen. If you can’t convey what needs to be seen or what needs to be relayed to those that are making the decisions. You’re not helping anyone.

[00:06:28]You’re more of a problem than you are a helper. So for us, it has been very difficult to, 150 year old department steeped in tradition. Who’s, using dot matrix printers and, carbon paper a few years ago to get them to. Embraced streaming or to look at a tablet or to even just give us a try has been a difficult process, as time has gone on and the upper part of the department, the leadership is getting some influence from the younger guys.

[00:06:56] We are getting there. Our department has rolled out its own application called the incident command app and. Currently trying to integrate our streamed footage into that. So that any department member that has a department phone or an iPad, which is every apparatus in New York city, will be able to look at what we’re providing as they’re responding to these multiple alarms.

[00:07:16] So if we have an escalating event where people are coming from, other boroughs or other parts of the barrel they’re in, they could look at it as they’re responding, hopefully in the near future. If this works out, it’s still in the pilot program it could be. No, the benefits are measurable early on.

[00:07:33] Steve Rhode: [00:07:33] It seemed like one of the sales approaches was, all you have to do is put the drone in the air and then put a monitor in front of your incident commander. And he can watch what the drone sees, but nobody really seemed to understand that the incident commander is drinking out of a fire hose. He’s got so many decisions and information coming in.

[00:07:54] He really doesn’t have time to do that. Do you see the drone pilot in the future as more automation becomes incorporated as becoming a technology expert in interpreting the information and providing expertise to the incident commander.

[00:08:10]Fred Carlson: [00:08:10] Absolutely. Our guys are the ones that know what they’re looking at and you’re absolutely right.

[00:08:15] That, that fire hose at a multiple alarm fire that I, the chief has just, he doesn’t want to know unless it’s a problem. And I can’t say I blame him. They’ve got jobs to do. They have checklists in their heads that nobody else has. They see the big picture. So for us, we’re gaining our voice with the department.

[00:08:31]Our guys have been able to see things and say, you might want to look at this. We had a church fire in lower Manhattan and it was getting into the Abbey behind it. And next thing you knew, this fire was getting that much bigger, that much quicker. So the idea of that was our original plan.

[00:08:46]Let’s put a big old iPad in front of the command post. Nobody looked at it and the communications guys, get this thing out of my way, the chief. All right. Great. Put it down. We keep going. It was a hard buy-in at first, but we’re definitely finally getting some of the recognition because of our guys being able to interpret what it is that they’re seeing, what the the advantages of now having the thermal.

[00:09:07]You can’t beat having isotherms, I have somebody look at it and, oh, it’s hot over there. I’m like, it’s a chimney, it’s a hundred degrees. You don’t need to be concerned about that. But in that back corner where there shouldn’t be any heat, that’s a problem. It’s become a good thing.

[00:09:21] And they’re also starting to use it. Tactically. We had a building not too long ago that the fire was just too far gone. The smoke was banked down. It was not lifting. It was just that stale air day and the guys down in the tower, ladder buckets. Just shooting water up in the nowhere, we were able to get the drone up above in the back and we would go to each pedestal and direct them to say, point your stream a little bit further to the right around two o’clock, three o’clock and they’d start putting water on fire.

[00:09:46] So it is starting to become tactical decisions and same thing with brush fires, we had a fire and a junkyard it’s great video. You have it. You see the thermal imaging and you can see the water just pumping onto this group of cars over there. Meanwhile, the hotspot. Two rows over and the smoke was just pouring underneath all these broken cars.

[00:10:04]He’d go over to the chief, Hey chief, you might want to look at this and oh, okay. And they’re happy. It’s those moments that afterwards they say, thank you guys. We really appreciate what you’re doing, but it’s been a long time for the buy-in. I We had our first fight over four years ago and it’s still a process for us to be able to help the way that we know it can happen.

[00:10:24] Steve Rhode: [00:10:24] Yeah. Even interpreting the Thermwell, especially interpreting the thermal. It can require experience. You look at a roof on a sunny day and of course it’s all hot. Absolutely. But you’re looking for, the hottest spot inside a wall where it shouldn’t be or something like that. The automation is going to take over more and more.

[00:10:42] And what I hear you saying is that you and your pilots are going to be focusing more on Being the experts of what the drone is telling you.

[00:10:52] Fred Carlson: [00:10:52] Yeah, the data analysis end of it is going to become ours. We have the own it, we’re the ones providing it and it’s been interesting because in our department, it’s the officers that carry the thermal imaging camera.

[00:11:02] They’re the ones that go in and say, okay, this is our plan. And they’re basing that plan off of something they can see. And they got to convey that information. It’s a little strange for our firefighters who are not used to being the ones, holding a thermal imaging camera to say, Hey, This is where we need to go.

[00:11:16] So it’s taken some of them to step up to the plate and it also is taken the officers that oversee them day in and day out to understand that, Hey, these firefighters really do have something special that can contribute to the mission.

[00:11:29] Steve Rhode: [00:11:29] See part of your job as being internal PR going around and trying to teach the commanders about the techniques.

[00:11:35]Fred Carlson: [00:11:35] Yes. And that is getting better. In fact, we had recently about, I want to say it was 20 or 30 battalion chiefs got promoted and they go through a chief’s development course and we are getting buy-in from the staff chiefs that. We should be able to go there and we called them up and the chiefs were ecstatic.

[00:11:54] They’re like, yes, get in there, teach these new battalion chiefs because they are going to be the future leadership of this department. So if we can get them fresh out of the two bars, into the nice Oak leaf, we can get some buy-in and they were happy to have us there. And it’s also good for our guys to build a rapport with how to interact with chiefs when it’s not an overwhelming emergency, where at the academy, it’s a controlled burn.

[00:12:14] Everybody knows their part and to be able to. Where do we fit in here? Do you want us in front of you? Do you want us behind you or do you want us to your side? Like it’s a learning curve for everyone. So we’ve since reached out to the training academy and anytime they’re doing live burns, I want my guys, their training.

[00:12:30] It’s imperative that day in and day out. We are there training and training is been the biggest part of our mission. We try to fly every day. Weather permitting.

[00:12:40] Steve Rhode: [00:12:40] Do you, how do you deal? The issue that your guys, when they’re flying are the pilot in command and they have, the sole authority to the operation of that aircraft.

[00:12:51] And yet they still have that history of the commander. Some tells you to do something. How do they say no when it’s not safe for them?

[00:13:01]Fred Carlson: [00:13:01] They say no, and that just comes down to it. It is the pilot’s decision. It is his discretion. And when I tell you, I had a firefighter tell the previous or two chiefs of departments ago when the program started chief Leonard, he wanted that drone up and it was just not safe.

[00:13:19] It was between two buildings in Manhattan. When canyoning, we were unsure of the stability of the tethered system through the multipathing off of the buildings. It was just not a safe place to fly. And it was a rip roaring fire. It was top floor blowing out. This is what we dream. If we’re going to provide aerial footage, this is it.

[00:13:37] And he had to tell the chief of department. No, he did not like that answer. But later on afterwards, when all the tempers came down and everything settled, we had to explain to them, this is why we need to provide safety and. Teller drones. Those were not small drones. They had one 18 inch carbon fiber blades.

[00:13:55] It weighed, I don’t even know how much that thing weighed. It was heavy. And it was a legitimate concern. If I can’t knowingly put that up safe, it’s not flying. And that really is coming down on my pilots and they have the power to make that decision and I trust them wholeheartedly.

[00:14:12] Steve Rhode: [00:14:12] So what is your approach to flying at an incident scene overview?

[00:14:18] And I’m not talking about just you got the public and then you have, department manpower. How do you handle

[00:14:23] Fred Carlson: [00:14:23] that? Department manpower is considered part of our organization. So if we briefly have to go over them while they’re wearing a helmet, if it’s the only way. I don’t like it. I’m not proud of it, you make them aware and say, Hey, look up.

[00:14:37] We’re going to fly or via, but we fly typically over adjoining buildings, we don’t fly over the street. We don’t fly over pedestrian walkways. We try and find the best place that we can. That it’s not a problem. Safety first, Michael Shea loved that guy. We do, and we’ve had it happen. We had a fire where the fire was progressing and the weather changed.

[00:14:59] And you start looking at each other no, this brain’s getting a little heavy. And as we said, maybe we should bring it back. Lights out it, bricked water got in, it had a complete, short out, even the flight data showed that it was just, it ended, it wasn’t like something failed. It was complete failure and it fell down on a rooftop.

[00:15:16] And we went back and I thanked my pilots for doing things conscientiously. The vendor may or may not have told us that, it can find a little bit of rain, but what’s a little bit of rain. But the decisions that we hammer I’m, I hate to use the word hammer into our pilots, but it is a beaten point.

[00:15:33] We do not fly over people. It is unacceptable and it will not happen. And for that reason alone, and it all started back on the tethered system that we have. 30 foot ring of danger, because we didn’t know where this thing was coming down and we had no control over it. We had up and down, there was no lateral movement.

[00:15:51]It was a concern that if this thing decides that it’s, if you’ve ever driven in a city and you’re using the GPS on your phone and all of a sudden it thinks you’re two blocks over same, thing’s happening to a drone. That’s completely GPS dependent. So it was a scary feeling when something you have no control over is deciding it needs to be two blocks over.

[00:16:09] And it’s. It would S it’s been since day one that we do not fly over people.

[00:16:14] Steve Rhode: [00:16:14] Yeah. The nice thing about tether drone is, you know exactly how far of an area you need to clear. It’s like the radius of the tether. I actually saw one of it might be the flight you’re describing, but I saw some data on a flight where.

[00:16:30] It was a row house fire, and your guys took off and hop, skipped over buildings in order to get the best position. And I honestly, I have to tell you, I smiled. I was so proud of you guys. I couldn’t believe it flying safely.

[00:16:49]Fred Carlson: [00:16:49] And that also comes to the fact that we require a VO. There’s no way we can fly in the city without a visual observer.

[00:16:55] And sometimes their job isn’t necessarily look at the drone, but to go clear a pathway for our pilot to get the drone where it needs to go, and sometimes that even comes down to grit. NYP D cop directing traffic saying, I need you to leave your post for a second and clear this out. I need to move something and they look at you like you have five heads, and then you explain to them, I’m moving a drone.

[00:17:14] I need people out. And they usually go, all right, this is better than directing traffic and they’ll come down and give us a hand. It’s just, it is unacceptable. And the dense population of New York city to fly over people. Now you

[00:17:27] Steve Rhode: [00:17:27] have a unique. Area that you operate in. Not only is it the densest airspace and very complicated, but it’s almost.

[00:17:35] Is it almost all urban? Do you have any open area that you deal with? We have

[00:17:40] Fred Carlson: [00:17:40] tons of open area. You get in a Staten island SA Southern Queens. We got three, four acre brush fires going at a clip. And, nobody’s putting up a tower ladder on a swamp because they don’t want to get it stuck.

[00:17:51] So it takes us a little while to get there, but we will get up and give them. Aerial footage of where the head of the fire is going. There is plenty of woods in Queens. There’s a park down in the middle of Queens on the border of Brooklyn called forest park. And it is a forest. It is dense. You cannot see through most of the tree line.

[00:18:08] So we do come across that. So it’s, our guys are. I shouldn’t say guys are my staff because Angelica has been a wonderful addition to our unit. We fly most varied spaces. You can find we’re over water. We’re over trees. We’re in the canyons and Manhattan. We’re over low rise, high rise, private dwellings, you name it.

[00:18:29] We fly it. We literally have anything and everything you can think of.

[00:18:34] Steve Rhode: [00:18:34] So my vision for the future of the drones is not only are they going to become more automated, have more artificial intelligence, be able to fly further and faster and stay longer overseas. But I would really like to see more integration between manned and unmanned aircraft.

[00:18:53] Fred Carlson: [00:18:53] I would love that too,

[00:18:58] Steve Rhode: [00:18:58] but the hurdles

[00:18:59] Fred Carlson: [00:18:59] that you see. Recently, we had a fire up in the Bronx. If anybody has ever flown into LaGuardia, they know that the planes come in, they head north through Manhattan that may hang a little, right. Turn over the Bronx and then come down. And I think it’s runway for that.

[00:19:18] I’m blanking on which runaway it is. But the come in on that path, it is predetermined due to population noise complaints. So we had a fire. So you have planes coming in on a descent to LaGuardia and the news helicopters want to come in and the tower told them that they got to stay below the approach pattern.

[00:19:36] So now I have my airspace up to maybe three, 400 feet. I have news helicopters trying to squeeze it over that. And then I have commercial airlines. Coming in over that. And at that point, the SGI is filed, most of our operations and your airports have to go through the SGI due to zero grid and other concerns of a facility maps.

[00:19:55]But the news helicopters a wild west. And then you throw in the NYP D who’s flying our battalion chief from Floyd Bennett field out in Brooklyn. So I’ve got the police helicopter, the news helicopter. I have jet aviation. And my guys that are constantly scouring the sky and to legally not be able to talk to them over, The air band is incredibly frustrating because I, I put a strobe on there, good for three nautical miles and throw it up to, Hey, this is great.

[00:20:26] So we had a helicopter and his helicopter came in really low. And my guy, it was less than 400 feet. I’d swear between the two of them. And my pilot looked at the officer work and says I have to land. And the PA and the officer. What do you mean you have the land? I’m like, this is not safe. And he did.

[00:20:42] He brought it down. We called N Y P D F aviation. And we reached out to the local newest helicopter FBO, which is over in New Jersey. And we said, we need them to give us the room that we deserve. This is an active scene. We need this. I wish I could get on the radio and say, F the operations, please, Bring up your altitude or clear the airspace, but instead I got to land my drone.

[00:21:03] I got a call, a news desk who was going to call an FBO who might radio over the air band to the pilot that you know, we’re operating. I wish I, and we are working on it. We’ve reached out to the news helicopter. Yeah. And we will have a meeting with them in the near future to discuss how things should play out, but it really needs to have a better interaction between Mandy aviation and the unmanned systems world.

[00:21:26] Steve Rhode: [00:21:26] All right. What about the integration of you being able to talk to. The NYP D helicopter pilots to get intelligence for a scene.

[00:21:35]Fred Carlson: [00:21:35] I would like that. Usually when our chief gets into their helicopter and goes he has one of our radios, so I’ve tried reaching out, but we’re operating on the same frequency as a multiple alarm fire.

[00:21:46] I’ve got, a lot of the decisions being made on the ground that need that same rating. Traffic. I’m not cutting in on that to tell a helicopter, I need some more space we’d land, or at least we come down to, an exclusion zone where we’re between two buildings or lower than something else that’s around.

[00:22:03] But it’s

[00:22:04] right.

[00:22:04] Steve Rhode: [00:22:04] How about, how can you work together with them where they’re providing you with more of an overall picture? And helping you on the ground.

[00:22:14]Fred Carlson: [00:22:14] That is a good question. We have talked to them and. We will interact with the chief up there and ask them to get us a view that we might not be able to get.

[00:22:24] And it is a bit of coordination where currently writing procedures up just for this is unchartered territory. So can we ask the communications office to use this? Channel on our tactical radios to communicate with the chief. Do they want to eliminate the chief up of the NYP? D I don’t know, these are not my decisions, but these are things that need to be hashed out.

[00:22:45] And it’s, I love the New York city fire department, but paperwork doesn’t happen quickly. So to make decisions, it’s, me reaching out to my captain, reaching out to the chief of special operations and he has to bring it to the table. The upper echelon of the department and it’s got to be agreed upon by everyone.

[00:23:01]I would love it. We are friends with the cops. The NYP to unit to our Ru has been phenomenal. We have started very close in time to each other. We’ve come across a lot of the same. And we do, we feed off each other. I know, everyone jokes around that, this tension between cops and firemen, but when it comes to the unmanned aviation world, we are wholeheartedly embraced in this together.

[00:23:21] We’ve both been to conferences down in Virginia. We’ve been all around and we have a good rapport and they also have the rapport with their manned aviation, which is located on the south end to Queens and Floyd Bennett field. So we’ve used them, we’ve talked to them, we’ve become friendly with their air desk.

[00:23:36] And we know. That’s part of our notifications. When we fly, we gotta, file a note them or an SGI. We got to call our operation center. We’re calling NYP D aviation NYP, these operation center when Trump’s was living here, it was secret service was on our list of people to call the list of people that we need to notify in this airspace is getting longer every day.

[00:23:59]Those notifications need to be made. They’re usually made in route since we’re driving from the middle of Queens and to be able to have that conversation through Airband, I would love to see but that’s way above my pay grade.

[00:24:10]Steve Rhode: [00:24:10] I have to tell you’ve heard me talk about it before, but talking to the news helicopters using the air band has been a game changer for us.

[00:24:20] Because those news helicopters once, it took a lot of work, a lot of PR work to go sit down and talk with them, understand each other. But honestly I get more out of them. In telling me about the scene because they’re already there.

[00:24:36] Fred Carlson: [00:24:36] Yeah. And I, so before I became a New York city fireman, I worked in television production and I worked for a local long island station, which also covered parts of the city.

[00:24:45] And that was my job. I used to receive the microwave transmissions from the helicopter and I was, in a TV studio wow, check this out. And I always wanted, when I worked there to be able to take that footage and disseminate it. And it’s something that they have brought up to us, with the ad, with bonded cellular and other ways of, retransmitting data, not necessarily through microwave dishes anymore.

[00:25:06]It is something that they are offering to us, but that. Their footage, they own it. They can, they just give it to us. Are we allowed to read, disseminate that on our end, through this incident command app? So you start getting into legal issues and any time lawyers get involved, things tend to slip and it’s not like we have one or two news stations.

[00:25:25] We have channel two, channel four, channel five, channel seven, channel 11 channel. Do name a few that are flying over us at these events and it’s inundating. I don’t know how they stay away from each other up there, to be honest with you. It’s I love it when I’m driving into work and three or four of them up and you’re like, oh, there must be an accident over the long island expressway.

[00:25:42] Cause they’re all just sitting there, but to have their video, which I could see eventually becoming something we can get, but it’s a process.

[00:25:52] Steve Rhode: [00:25:52] Tell us about your observations and lessons that you learned from your experience on the big certifier in California, you were watching the Cal fire drone teams at work.

[00:26:02]What

[00:26:02] Fred Carlson: [00:26:02] did that stuff, man? What did I want? All right. So I’m part of the incident management team. I’m in the seat unit, which we deal with situational awareness. We’re pulling in the data. We’re the ones that order the NY ROPs flights, or we reach out to the helicopters and the manned aviation world out there.

[00:26:20] It’s the life’s blood of Cal fire between water drops, Bambi buckets, water depths dropping off cruise equipment that the aviation space is restricted and for good reason. But on the backside of that, the drone program does offer some abilities that man, the aviation cannot do. If you gotta do a burn off on a steep terrain and they can’t climb up there to get it, then.

[00:26:45] And I’m 600 that’s shooting off ping pong, balls of fire in a perfectly straight line. Holy cow, that was just mind boggling that they could get in draw of finger across the screen for a straight line. And you’re getting perfect burns. Great. And then for mapping, burned out areas. I, so on the way from the airport to big Sur, I drove past Walmart and I said, oh, I wonder if they got a Maverick mini.

[00:27:11] So I went over and I bought a mini and I drove down and everybody’s what are you doing with this? I’m like, I know. Their drone guy. And I was happened to be in the same tent with the air boss, and we needed a facility map of this, the campsite that we were at for safety plan and guys out there with a pen and paper, trying to draw things up.

[00:27:29] And I looked at my GIS guys and I said, if I give you a 2d map, can you just overlay it and print it out? Yeah, I’m like, hang on a minute. So I’d walk next door, sat down with the air boss. And I’m like you doing any flights over here right now? He’s I got one guy up. He should be laying in about 20 minutes.

[00:27:43] Can you give me a half hour of flight time for what? Mike? I got a little drone. I just want to try something. And he looked at me, just shook his head. You guys from New York. And he said, yes. So I went back to over and took my drone out and I set it up and laid out a 2d grid and I flew it and poured it into GIS.

[00:28:00] And within a half hour we had a safety plan for the whole site and I brought it over to him and I said, thank you. And he looked at me. You did all that and that time I’m like, yeah, that’s what this stuff does. So it’s a culture difference that I will eventually see. And the main, the manned aviation guys need to understand.

[00:28:18] We’re not coming for your job. We don’t want to stop you. We want to help. And if we can help in ways that you can’t do what you do, it’s benefiting everyone. And the incident commander is starting to see the value in it. We actually used drones during in city. Mission where we had to track down tractor trailers around, at all the hospitals in New York city at the height of COVID right.

[00:28:42] They use drones, we use drones and we were able to provide data of where these trailers were kept. And it was something that, you know, as the incident management teams and the USR teams, and they’re all hazards, Countrywide, they are adopting it. And it’s in the FEMA books that, you have.

[00:29:01] Unmanned aerial systems on the wildland fires and it’s for good reason. It’s here to stay. It’s not going away.

[00:29:08] Steve Rhode: [00:29:08] What do you see the future? As far as technology, moving ahead, more artificial intelligence. Do you see the need for longer flight times? What’s in your wishlist?

[00:29:17]Fred Carlson: [00:29:17] Autonomy is.

[00:29:19] Without a doubt, something that’s coming. Even the changes in the past four years it’s like going from an eight track to a CB in a matter of, no time the autonomy is outstanding. The anti-collision is outstanding flight times always going to be an issue. We always want more flight time, when you got to stack eight batteries, so you can charge them and put them back in by the time you get to the next one, it’s what we’re doing.

[00:29:44] For the longer flights, we still might go back to the tethered systems. But the power to weight ratio for these batteries, it’s a fine line at what point has become too heavy to become worth putting that big of a battery into it. So I understand the restrictions as technology gets better, things get lighter.

[00:30:01] We could see the longer flight times, but the autonomy, I really Skydio is just putting out a phenomenal product right now. I, they brought it out. They showed it to us. I was running through the trees. It just followed me like it was a walk in the park and I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

[00:30:15]The V. It just doesn’t exist. And now it does. It’s one of my best pilots. He actually flies to the drone racing league and he was the guy that like, if we needed to thread a needle, that’s who I wanted on the sticks. Like Chris, you got it. You’re the guy who can go get them. And now I can push my finger on a screen.

[00:30:35] And the drone just gets to where it needs to go without batting an eye is. It’s really, truly unbelievable. What’s happened in the past few years and I can’t wait to see where it’s going to go from there. So

[00:30:46] Steve Rhode: [00:30:46] in closing, because we’re going to have more podcasts, I’ve got so many questions I never got to, but in closing this one, All pilots, drone pilots, man pilots.

[00:30:59] We’ve all learned aviation lessons the hard way. Unfortunately, can you share some situations you’ve had or observed that were teachable moments for your pilots? Let me give you an example. Let me give you an example. A teachable moment for me is that moment where you land the drone and you say to yourself in your head, I am not doing that again.

[00:31:23] Fred Carlson: [00:31:23] We had recently somebody took off and they didn’t quite have the right amount of satellites and it altered the return to home and it decided it was going to come home, but it was not coming back to where it started from. And it’s now a procedure that when we take off, you will hover for 30 seconds to a minute, until that return to home is updated or you have enough satellites.

[00:31:46] It was a teachable moment. Something may not have landed so nicely cause it hits some tree branches on the way back and yeah. It’s a problem. And it’s these things that, yes, it is teachable, but these books that we’re writing to lay out our program are all coming from experiences. Far guys weren’t having these, oh, no moments.

[00:32:05] I will never do that again. I wouldn’t have something to write about and I as much. Love writing about things, I’m glad that we’re learning from it. And I just want to make sure that the new guys coming in are learning from other people’s mistakes without having to fill them out themselves, because there’s no need to make the same mistake twice.

[00:32:24] Steve Rhode: [00:32:24] So that brings up a final question. The final question, which is it from your point of view, is it better to be in the air fast or

[00:32:32] Fred Carlson: [00:32:32] safe? Safe hands down every time. And I equate it to what I learned when I got on the fire department. Haste makes waste. You will never see in New York city, a firefighter with their hands full of tools, running into a burning.

[00:32:46] We don’t run. We take our time. We’re analyzing, we’re sizing up. We’re making sure that everything is where it should be, and that we’re going to get our job done without causing more trouble. So the to be fast is it’s useless and we’re going on a second alarm. This fire is not going out right away.

[00:33:04] We’re not going to be blasting into the sky just because we’re there to get information to those who need it. And if we’re not getting there safely and we can’t get there. It’s pointless. I hands down, take the breath, take a look, make sure your video is ready. Make sure your battery is charged. Do the checklists checklist.

[00:33:25] They’re there for a reason. They work. You look at any movie where planes go coming out of the sky. And the first thing the pilot does is pull out a checklist and the co-pilot’s reading it off. Good good. Yeah. It’s there to make your brain go through that process. I can’t my guys make fun of me because I make a QR code for just about every checklist.

[00:33:44] So that way they can just point their phone at it and get it. And I think they might start calling me QR, but I have checklists for everything. And it’s for a reason, you need to be conscientious of what it is that you are.

[00:33:55]Steve Rhode: [00:33:55] It’s interesting because, so I was, all day in the airplane yesterday, right?

[00:34:00] Doing the same sorts of things. And every time pulling out the checklist, we’re reading off the checklist, it might be the thousandth time that we’ve done this, but you can’t miss something if you’re reading it off the checklist.

[00:34:14] Fred Carlson: [00:34:14] Yeah. And it’s, they work well. And you know what, if something’s not there, we can add it or change it.

[00:34:21] Or if technology makes something more streamlined, we’ll adapt. But that checklist is there for a reason.

[00:34:28] Steve Rhode: [00:34:28] You have been awesome. You’ve shared great information with us. Good insight. Any last words that you want to impart before we, we end

[00:34:39] Fred Carlson: [00:34:39] make friends, this is a small community and. God for social media.

[00:34:45]I can’t say enough things when we first started with our tether program. I remember Tim, her locker came to me. He said, oh, there’s this guy out of Carolinas. He wants to start up a website called PS flight.org. And I was a friendship. We made it almost four years ago, Steve and we leaned off of each other for random things.

[00:35:02] And it’s a small community. I’ve met so many people just in the tri-state area, whether it’s, port authority and YPD MTA department of buildings is looking for us for help. It’s a small community and we’re all at the same game of benefiting the public and the best way that we can and to be expeditious while being safe is it’s measurable.

[00:35:24]So make friends do the reach outs, join the clubs. Become part of the chat groups. There is a wealth of information and we can all learn from each other’s mistakes. So I make friends I can’t say it enough. We all need to be in this together.

[00:35:41] Steve Rhode: [00:35:41] Thank you so much, Fred.

[00:35:42] Fred Carlson: [00:35:42] Cheers,

About Steve Rhode

The Public Safety Flight website is dedicated to news, honest information, tips, and stories about the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), UAVs, aircraft, and drones in the fire service and other public safety niches.The site was founded by Steve Rhode, an FAA-certificated airplane commercial and instrument certificated pilot and a very experienced Part 107 UAS commercial pilot. Steve is the Chief Pilot with the Wake Forest Fire Department and the North Carolina Public Safety Drone Academy. He also provides expert advice to drone pilots through Homeland Security Information Network and he is an FAA Safety Team drone expert. Steve loves to work closely with public safety pilots to answer questions and share information, real-world truth, and drone operation advice. You can contact Steve here, learn more about Steve here, or join his public safety pilot private email list here.

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