The Orlando Fire Department this week took a step toward equipping its firefighters with drones that they say will improve the speed and safety of their responses.
The Fire Department spent Tuesday and Wednesday in training with the Federal Aviation Authority on how to safely and efficiently use the drones.
Seven members of the Fire Department’s arson and bomb squad received their certification to fly the unmanned aircraft, Fire Department spokeswoman Ashley Papagni said.
Capt. Trenton Campbell said the technology will help members of his team responding to reports of suspicious packages make faster assessments of what firefighters are up against. He said it would take “literally minutes” from the time firefighters arrive to when a drone could capture images of a device and the surrounding area.
“We can deploy a drone at a rapid rate, so we don’t have to shut down commerce too long,” Campbell said. “We can launch that before our whole team is ready to assemble.”
Fire Department Chief Roderick Williams said the drones will also keep members of the bomb squad safer when assessing situations.
“It’s another layer of protection,” Williams said. “Before we actually send our person down to look at a device, we can utilize these cameras first and this drone to actually look closer.”
In addition to assisting with suspicious-device investigations, Papagni said, the unmanned aircraft could be used in search-and-rescue missions, fire and damage assessments and other emergency situations.
Orange County Fire Rescue received the go-ahead from county officials in April to apply for authorization from the FAA to use drones. Fire Rescue Chief Otto Drozd III said the drones can attach to a variety of tools including cameras, infrared cameras and portable defibrillators.
“All of these take the firefighters out of harm’s way and put the drone in the position to give us the operational intelligence we need to get when we’re on scene,” Drozd said.
Papagni said the drones would cost between $1,500 and $1,700. The department plans to purchase drones within the next two months, Williams said.