Syracuse Fire Department Drone Takes Flight as a New Response Tool

Jun 8, 2018

The Syracuse Fire Department's H-520 drone takes flight for a training exercise.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

The Syracuse Fire department Friday demonstrated its Unmanned Aerial System operation, or drone as part of a training exercise that caps off a week-long course.  The city and the department were recently awarded a Certificate of Authorization by the FAA to use the drone as a response tool.

The drill was almost like preparing a plane for take-off…chatter could be heard on firefighter radios as the operator announced the various pre-flight actions.

As the H-520 drone took flight, firefighters stood by with hoses near burning barrels of lumber.  Captain Tim Gleeson says the machine is outfitted with thermal imaging and a video recorder.

"We're going to use that video to train our responders and show them different heat signatures, and what good extinguishment looks like."

The drone and it's smaller companion (at bottom) begin to head to the "hot spots" prepared in the training area.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

Another, smaller drone provided the command and control view.  Gleeson says most departments use drones for seach and rescue and wildfire applications.  But he says they spend the past year trying to translate that to an urban fire department.

"We knew using thermal imaging would give us a view of structures that we've never had before.  Plus, the overwatch view from the air."

Gleeson says the drones won’t likely be used as part of a response to a typical house fire.

"We don't see this as being part of that initial attack.  We don't have enough manpower, and we don't have them spread out across the department enough to do that.  What we're looking at here are stubborn fires, fires that occur in non-residential structures, commercial structures, things of that nature."

While the department has been at the forefront of new technology and innovation, Gleeson says drones are something quite different.

Firefighters douse the barrel fires while the drones (not pictured) capture video of their work.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

"The training is pretty intense.  We're all trained fiermen.  We're trained in emergency response.  We're trained medical providers.  This was really learning a brand new field, learning aviation for our folks."

Eight firefighters, one police officer, and one worker with the department of water were trained this week on the UAS.  Chief Michael Monds says the city spent about $20,000 in start up costs that include equipment and training hours on the project.  A small investment, he says, for technology that could save lives.