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Flight Debrief – Failure and Lessons Learned From Structure Fire 4-3-2018

Flight Debrief – Failure and Lessons Learned From Structure Fire 4-3-2018

We all learn best from experience so here is another in my series of comprehensive flight debriefs. You can see all the past debriefs here.

WFFD UAS Flight Debrief

Date: 4-3–2018

Incident: #[ ]

Location: [ ]

Flight Time: 30 Minutes

Mission Goals:

Provide information to assist firefighting operations.

What Went Well:

The following items were conducted without incident:

  1. A safe landing zone (LZ) was established next to what I initially thought to be the BC command vehicle.
  2. Thermal information was obtained and given to BC.
  3. The thermal camera identified an area of interest on the A side of the structure in the front section near the door.

  4. The area identified was examined by firefighters using a handheld thermal device and no further action was determined to be warranted.

What Could Have Gone Better:

  1. The vehicle I parked next to turned out to be a similar command truck but not the BC vehicle.
  2. I hesitated in how to get the information I was seeing to the BC. I did not want to block radio traffic with firefighters inside the structure but I was attached to the drone vehicle recording flight. I could not see where the BC was located. I eventually disconnected the HDMI cable from the recorder and attempted to locate the BC but was unsuccessful from standing in front of the house. I did not want to venture too far from my view of the aircraft in the air because of the difficult flight conditions. After landing the aircraft I went and successfully located the BC and gave him information about what I had visualized.

  3. I did examine the satellite map in route and looked for a good place to establish the LZ. There did not appear to be a better location than on the two-lane road in front of the structure behind the engines and trucks. Due to the location of the incident, my response time was extended and upon arrival, I was able to park without interfering with traffic.
  4. If I had approached from the opposite direction there was a better staging area in the driveway entrance of the next house but that is not the way the GPS took me and I could not see that location on arrival.
  5. The flight area was difficult in the dark. The LZ on the road was partially under power lines but a quick examination of the overhead conditions using a flashlight clearly identified the wires. The area was covered in a number of trees. I was unable to visualize the height of the trees but could confirm I did have a clear column to ascend once I launched and moved slightly out from under the overhead wires.
  6. Given the darkness and wooded conditions I kept the aircraft in a very safe location above and in front of the structure. I had no indication of the recency of the Google map image and did not want to rely solely on it for making flight decisions.
  7. What I should have done was reexamine the aerial image once I arrived on scene to verify the LZ I established was indeed the better location.
  8. The BC later indicated he was actually not established in a noticeable position because when he arrived he needed to venture down a long dirt drive to attempt to house with active smoke coming from attic. This left him off the primary road when he established command. He said in the future he would radio his exact position when he did establish command.
  9. The better flight path would have been to establish an LZ as shown below and approach on the path of the arrow.

Flight Video:

Recommendations From Flight:

Some additional discussions are needed to handle a similar situation in the future. I hesitated to contact the BC with information over the radio but at the same time, the information appeared to be of use. However, given the difficult flight conditions and inability to locate the BC or another nearby firfighter to ask to assist with those taks, I’m not sure what I could have done differently. I’m open to all suggestions on how to handle this situation in the future.

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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.
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