Firefighters With Drones? Grand Rapids Seeks Input

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – The Grand Rapids Fire Department wants to add drones to its arsenal of tools used to investigate fires and aid in rescues.

After the idea was publicly introduced in January, the department is now ready to move forward with a formal request for the equipment this fall.

First, the city must hold a public hearing due to its policies that govern any time the city adds new surveillance equipment.

That hearing is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 22, in front of the city commission at its regular session.

Grand Rapids Fire Department eyes drone purchase to improve rescue times

Fire Department Chief John Lehman told the city commission this week that the drone would not be used on a daily basis.

“There’s not someone out there that we’re trying to model – we’re attempting to be the model for departments in the state of Michigan,” Lehman said in an interview with MLive.

The fire department is considering the purchase of an Inspire 1 V2.0 drone, along with the Zenmuse XT Flir thermal imaging camera.

The thermal imaging software would allow firefighters to find hot spots in a fire faster and without putting as many firefighters at risk. A similar technology could also help firefighters in investigating the cause of fires after they are extinguished.

One of the biggest opportunities the department sees for the drone is to assist in water rescues to help locate people, especially in the middle of the night. The drone could also be used to aid in hazmat situations, storm damage assessment and training.

Read the GRFD’s drone policy

Read the GRFS’s drone standard operating guidelines

Under the department’s policy, the drone would be used to “aid in the department’s fire investigation efforts, hazardous materials planning, fire inspections, emergency operations, damage assessment after large scale emergencies and to support the department’s training efforts.”

The policy also states that drones used by the department “will not be used for surveillance or tracking of individuals or groups of people unless it is directly related to emergency deployments such as fires, fire investigations, damage assessments and rescue missions.”

Firefighters will also be required to use the drone in a way that does not violate individuals’ rights protecting them against unreasonable search and seizure, according to the policy.

The department would plan to destroy the data captured by the drone unless it is considered to be evidence of a crime, part of an ongoing investigation or otherwise required to be retained by law, under the operating guidelines the fire department has developed.

Data would be stored on the fire department’s shared drive in a secure folder only accessible by the fire chief or someone the chief designates, according to the guidelines.

Other departments could ask to use the fire departments drone – but they would have to agree to the terms and conditions of the fire department’s guidelines first.

Ten firefighters across the department are now certified drone pilots through the Federal Aviation Administration. Lehman said federal requirements to operate a drone program have been completed.

The drone would require a three-man team to operate: one pilot, one spotter and one person to watch the video feed from the drone.

After the Aug. 22 hearing, the department would next bring a formal request to the commission to start an unmanned aerial vehicle program Sept. 12. Should that vote be successful, the department would then approach the commission’s fiscal committee Sept. 26. [Click for More]