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Our 2021 Wake Forest Fire Department Drone Policy

Our 2021 Wake Forest Fire Department Drone Policy

My fire department is always willing to share information to help other departments. Here is our latest UAS public Safety Policy that might be helpful as a guide for other departments.

2021 UNMANNED AIRCRAFT SYSTEM (DRONE) STANDARD OPERATING GUIDELINE

Wake Forest Fire Department

1. PURPOSE:

The purpose of the Wake Forest Fire Department (WFFD) Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) policy is to set out clear guidelines for operations in support of the services provided by the Wake Forest Fire Department. The overriding goal is to provide a framework for safety and operations of the UAS under applicable rules and regulations while completing mission-specific tasks.

2. SCOPE:

This policy applies to all WFFD personnel and pilots authorized to operate and support the UAS.

2.1. The aviation policy is divided into authorized mission categories that the UAS may operate in at this time.

2.1.1. Commercial / Multifamily Structure Fire
2.1.2. Outdoor Fire
2.1.3. Search/Rescue
2.1.4. Post Incident Assessment
2.1.5. Hazmat Response
Note: Respond non-emergency unless requested by Command.

3. PROCEDURE:

3.1. WFFD personnel authorized to operate the UAS must meet the required minimum qualifications as put forth by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the operation of UAS. This requires at a minimum that the pilot holds a valid and active FAA Part 107 certification to operate a UAS. Additionally, authorized pilots must possess a valid North Carolina government UAS operator permit obtained from the North Carolina Department of Transportation, Division of Aviation.

3.2. WFFD UAS pilots will operate the aircraft at all times with the safety of the public as the primary goal while making all efforts to accomplish the specific mission at hand.

3.3. The WFFD pilot will operate under the designation of (Car 6) and be labeled as the aviation unit. The UAS will operate with the call sign of (WF Firebird-1). The WFFD will appoint a Chief Pilot to be responsible for the oversight and operational use of all UAS operated by the WFFD. The Chief Pilot will hold all FAA operational certifications and UAS operational flight experience. The Chief Pilot will also be responsible for the supervision of future pilots and FAA required Visual Observer training. The Chief Pilot may respond emergency traffic to authorized missions spelled out in this document and as allowed by North Carolina law.

4. GENERAL OPERATIONAL REQUIREMENTS:

4.1. When arriving at the scene of a WFFD mission, the pilot will position his vehicle in such a location that would permit for the safe launch and recovery of the UAS without flight over people and within Visual Line of Sight (VLOS). The launch and recovery location of the UAS will be determined by the pilot and may not be co-located with the Command Post if the UAS operations can be completed in a more strategic and safer alternative location. The Chief Pilot establishes the flight operations branch consisting of the Chief Pilot and the Assistant Pilot. The Assistant Pilot must be able to perform all duties stated in section 5.3.6 of this document. When dispatched out of district, flight operations will be comprised of the Chief Pilot and, if available, a Wake Forest Chief Officer.

4.2. If members of the public are nearby the Pilot In Command (PIC), the Assistant Pilot will tape off a no entry zone for all others to not enter. This will be at least a 10-foot radius around the proposed takeoff and recovery point.

4.3. All WFFD UAS operations should be in compliance with all appropriate FAA Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) in Part 91 and Part 107. In addition, when operating at night, the UAS must have active visual strobe lights that comply with Part 107 operations to allow for the identification of the aircraft from the ground and air.

4.4. WFFD field personnel must complete a training class to become a qualified and approved Visual Observer (VO) to assist the WFFD Chief Pilot during the operation of
Unmanned Aircraft System the UAS. The primary responsibility of the VO will be to maintain an awareness of the position of the UAS while ensuring it remains clear of any potential collision hazards by effectively communicating with the Chief Pilot.

4.5. The WFFD UAS pilot will operate under the direction of the incident commander but the pilot maintains the sole and exclusive responsibility of operating the UAS in a manner acceptable to the pilot and within FAR Part 107 guidelines or an FAA issued emergency waiver for the incident. This might mean the refusal to fly if the situation is determined to be unsafe or unable to comply with FAR Part 91 and Part 107 regulations.

4.6. Car-6 will be dispatched to any authorized mission as defined in Section 2. SCOPE of this document. It will be the decision of the incident commander to authorize UAS response on additional incident types.

4.7. The WFFD Flight Operations (Assistant Pilot) will be required to be in radio contact with the incident commander and WFFD VOs at all times. The Assistant Pilot will also maintain a safe distance of all people so the UAS has a safe path to return and depart from the landing zone.

4.8. The UAS will be required to be held in an operational status at all times practical. This will require regular review of hardware and software and inspection of all components to maintain operational use and mission readiness.

4.9. The WFFD PIC will carry the UAS in the assigned vehicle and be responsible for the delivery of the UAS and operation at a designated scene.

5. APPROVED UAS MISSION CATEGORIES

5.1. COMMERCIAL/MULTIFAMILY STRUCTURE FIRE

5.1.1. The WFFD UAS can serve a valuable role during a structure fire. Utilizing both the visual and FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) camera on the aircraft the incident commander can obtain significant information about the status of the fire and building.

5.1.2. Flight operations during a structure fire will be at the request of the incident Commander but all UAS operations are to be conducted in the manner approved by the PIC and within FAA FARs or FAA emergency waivers. Flight Operations will report to the incident commander after arriving on scene. This action may be accomplished over the radio. Flight Operations would then become a branch of Operations. Flight Operations should be staffed by the PIC and an Assistant Pilot or Visual observer if available and requested by the pilot.

5.2. OUTDOOR FIRE

5.2.1. Outdoor fires can create a secondary complication regarding the operation in the line of sight if tall trees obstruct the pilot’s view of the UAS. At the sole discretion of the pilot it may be necessary to request a ladder truck to lift the pilot up above obstructions to maintain a line of sight with the aircraft if the aircraft cannot accomplish the mission with solely a vertical ascent within the line of sight.

5.2.2. The utilization of the UAS at an outdoor fire will allow the incident commander to determine the extent of the fire and/or areas of the fire that should be prioritized. Utilizing the onboard FLIR camera will provide additional information not otherwise available. Flight Operations will report to the incident commander after arriving on scene. This action may be accomplished over the radio. Flight Operations would then become a branch of Operations. Flight Operations should be staffed by the PIC and the Assistant Pilot.

5.3. SEARCH/RESCUE

5.3.1. Depending on the search area of the missing target, it may likely require the pilot to conduct flight operations from the bucket of the ladder truck to maintain line of sight operations. The need for the ladder truck and elevated platform will be at the sole discretion of the pilot. If the pilot operates the aircraft from the ground, they must maintain the aircraft within VLOS at all times unless otherwise approved by an FAA emergency waiver for Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations. The landing zone for the flights may need to be relocated each time to keep the UAS within VLOS as the search continues.

5.3.2. Utilizing the onboard FLIR camera the UAS will have significant capabilities otherwise not available for the location of the missing target in open areas but not in forested or heavily vegetated areas.

5.3.3. Flight Operations will report to the incident commander after arriving on scene. This action may be accomplished over the radio. Flight Operations will receive a Search Target Briefing from incident command that should include the following information:

  • Who/what is the target?
  • When was the target last seen?
  • What is the target description?
  • What is the geography / hazards?
  • Are there points of interest?
  • Is there additional witness intelligence?

5.3.4. Flight Operations Branch will report to operations and may be comprised in the following incident command structure. Flight Operations will team the Chief Pilot with an optional Assistant Pilot operating at the LZ. The Observation Post will be staffed with one or more pilot optional visual observers that will communicate by radio or telephone with the Assistant Pilot.

5.3.5. Chief Pilot duties include:

  • Decides if the mission is safe to commence
  • Selects the LZ / Flight Operations Area
  • Pilots the UAS
  • Identifies targets
  • Conducts all flight operations in compliance with FARs

5.3.6. Assistant Pilot duties include:

  • Communications
  • Visual Observer
  • Identifies targets
  • Flight support (Secures LZ)
  • Reports actionable intelligence to Operations or Command
  • Accountability

5.3.7. Observation Post duties include:

  • Receive video feed from Flight Ops
  • Identify targets
  • Visual Observer
  • Communicates with the Assistant Pilot
  • Accountability

5.3.8. OPERATIONS

  • Receives target information from the Assistant Pilot and assigns targets to the search teams.
  • Communicates target status to IC and Flight Ops
  • Maintains search team and target accountability

5.3.9. SEARCH TECHNIQUES and RESOURCES

  • There are two types of UAS directed searches:
    • DIRECT SEARCH – UAS hovers over target; using the clock method Flight Ops/Operations directs the search team to the target,
    • INDIRECT SEARCH – UAS continues a search pattern while the search team proceeds to the GPS location assigned.

5.3.10. SEARCH TEAM

  • A Search Team will consist of two personnel, one person will perform navigation and communications duties, the other person will function as a visual observer.
  • Perform direct or indirect searches
  • Radio traffic benchmarks include, Target Found / Nothing Found / State Object Found
  • NOTE: All personnel involved in the search are Visual Observers. If the UAS is in collision danger, the PILOT STOP message must be communicated. The PIC will then work to avoid the collision danger before resuming the search.

5.3.11. SEARCH TEAM EQUIPMENT:

  • GPS Device (Smart Phone)/Compass
  • Flashlight
  • Radio
  • ATV
  • Yellow scene tape (3-foot strips)
  • Medical Kit includes – Tourniquet, Pressure Bandage, Water, Thermal Blanket

5.3.12. SEARCH STRATEGIES & TACTICS:

  • Follow the path of least resistance. People will usually follow a path that is easy to navigate.
  • Search down-hill first
  • Search areas with water first
  • Treat targets and articles found with crime scene protocols (Mark targets/articles found with a GPS location and yellow tape)

5.3.13. ACCOUNTABILITY:

  • Identify each search team and their search criteria:
  • Provide search teams with the return GPS location.
  • Flight Operations, Operations, and the Observation post must maintain an Accountability Board Example:

Accountability Board

Incident Command Structure:

Incident Command Structure

5.4. POST DISASTER ASSESSMENT

As soon as practical for aerial operations and under the guidance of incident command, the UAS will start damage assessment over areas that would be deemed a priority for damage assessment. Video and photos would be evaluated for secondary flights. Flights may not take place over people or property that could be damaged if the UAS fails and crashes.

The utilization of the UAS at a post-disaster assessment will allow the incident commander and municipality to determine the extent of the damage caused by large scale disasters to determine the priority of resources and response. Flight Operations would then become a branch of Operations. Flight Operations should be staffed by the PIC and the Assistant Pilot.

5.5. HAZMAT

5.5.1. The WFFD UAS can serve a valuable role during a hazmat response. Utilizing both the visual and FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) cameras on the aircraft the incident commander can obtain significant information about the status of the Hazmat area.

5.5.2. Flight operations during a hazmat response will be at the request of the incident commander but all operations are to be conducted in the manner approved by the PIC. Flight Operations will report to the incident commander after arriving on scene. This action may be accomplished over the radio. Flight Operations would then become a branch of Operations. Flight Operations should be staffed by the PIC and the Assistant Pilot.

INFORMATION CAPTURED BY UAS DURING WFFD RESPONSE

All visual images captured and recorded are the sole property of the WFFD. After a WFFD UAS flight, and as soon as practical, the WFFD UAS PIC will upload captured still and video image files to a secure storage location designated and approved by the WFFD.

The WFFD UAS PIC will submit a flight report as soon as practical after a mission flight to a designated person. This report will include details on the mission flown; including a narrative description of the mission including goals, outcome, measured flight time, and location or folder of saved mission information captured.

AIRCRAFT

There are two categories of UAS the WFFD may operate. Each has different capabilities and should be operated accordingly.

  • Non-Type Certified: At the time of this policy non-type certified aircraft are the most common available. They have not passed an FAA examination and found to be safe to fly. Operation of such aircraft should be conducted with the expectation the UAS can operate erratically or crash at any moment. A much greater level of responsibility and liability exists for the pilot and department in the operation of these aircraft.
  • Type Certified: A type certified aircraft has passed an FAA approval process and has been found to be ready for safe operation as long as it is maintained and operated in accordance with its type certificate awarded. Different aircraft will be approved by the FAA for normal flight over people, property, and/or BVLOS.

PILOT LIABILITY

All WFFD UAS pilots must be aware that the operation of the UAS is the sole responsibility of the Pilot in Command (PIC) while the UAS is operating. The PIC is responsible for compliance with all applicable FARs and operation outside of those regulations can result in personal liability including FAA imposed civil fines and criminal charges filed against the PIC personally. Additionally, non-compliant flight can result in legal exposure to the pilot, department, and government entity. All flight operations must be conducted within the FARs and operational limitations of the UAS.

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 and North Carolina Public Safety Drone Academy. He is also a member of the FAA Safety Team.
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