Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service launched their capability to deploy not one, but two operational Drones to live incidents, under a myriad of conditions and rescue scenarios as part of their Integrated Risk Management Plan 2021-24.
The introduction of operational Drones as a deployable asset to an ongoing incident forms just one part of MFRS’ forward thinking and bold Integrated Risk Management Plan 2021-24, to develop a balanced approach to reducing risk within the community.
The drones bring additional support to crews at incidents by providing aerial imagery, thermal imagery, additional lighting, video recording, communications, and the ability to search wide areas and read hazard labels from a distance.
Group Manager Phil Byrne said, “From arriving on scene, the pilot can have the drone in the air within 5 minutes.
“Detachable payloads include a spotlight camera and a loud speaker which can provide instructions to people who may be trapped or give instructions to residentswho may be on balconies or in other inaccessible areas to evacuate.”
“The technology also has the benefit of Thermal Imagery, so we can switch the camera from its normal vision to Thermal Imagery, where you can see hot or cold targets.”
“So if you’ve got people missing, people in the water, or thermal radiation from a fire, it can pick that up.”
Piloted by a member of the Service's designated drone team possessing industry standard qualifications, this innovative eye in the sky has the potential to gather unparalleled intelligence and situational awareness at ongoing incidents, in real time, that could save lives.
On request, Fire Control will mobilise a UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) Remote Drone Pilot(s) with the Drone asset readied for deployment.
The Drone can support operations across a variety of incident types by providing extensive aerial imagery to enhance situational awareness, thermal imagery, lighting and communications broadcast.
GM Byrne continued, “The eye in the sky gives any Incident Commander a much-improved situational awareness, so not only would they be able to see the fire or the incident they are dealing with but much further afield, including premises that the incident may be affecting and any road networks.“
“We could stream that footage further afield to other Commanders or other agencies who may need to see that footage who aren’t necessarily at scene but could have an important part to play in resolving that incident.”
By utilising state of the state-of-the art technology to provide unrivalled on the spot insight to an Incident Commander at scene, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service is at the forefront of innovative firefighting practices to ensure that MFRS keep the communities across Merseyside safe.
The drones fly to a maximum height of 120m, in visual line-of-sight of the operator (VLOS). The Civil Aviation Authority has authorised MFRS to apply emergency services exemption rules to their drones, which means crews can fly them in the dark and outside of normally permitted distances, where there is a risk to life.
The drones have a battery life of between 20 and 35 minutes but using certain aspects of the craft, like their floodlights, reduces battery life quicker. The drone packs carry additional batteries and a mobile charging unit.
MFRS currently has two drones - a DJI Matrice RTK 300 and a DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced. A single operator (drone pilot) operates the smaller aircraft, Mavic 2, which is operational within 5 minutes of arriving at an incident. The operator controls an on-board camera, which feeds live aerial imagery to the incident commander. The camera has a fantastic zoom capability, which easily switches to a thermal image. The drone can also be fitted with a small high-powered lamp or a speaker, allowing the operator to give instructions that are broadcast from the aircraft.
The larger drone, the Matrice, is operational within 20 minutes. One or two pilots can fly the craft in winds of up to 32mph. The Matrice’s camera provides amazing aerial imagery, via zoom and thermal imagery, whilst its search lamp provides an overhead beam or flood light to illuminate the scene at an incident.
The aircraft’s imagery feeds to a laptop on the Incident Command Unit. This imagery can be shared to a bigger screen.
MFRS has registered the drone pilots as operators. They have also completed the Civil Aviation Authorities (CAA) drone exams and an additional CAA approved emergency services drone operator course. The course consists of 35 hours pre-course, a closed book examination and practical flight assessments that highlight emergency procedures.
The team must maintain two hours flying time, every three months. The drone operators are based in the Protection department. When they are not at an emergency they will use the aircraft to assist with fire safety audits on complex and tall buildings. The drones will also capture footage to enhance learning materials for our operational crews.