RFS planning drones on the fire ground

RFS: 'A single drone operator could complete the work of several firefighters in hours, rather than days'. Photo: Jesshoots.com
RFS: 'A single drone operator could complete the work of several firefighters in hours, rather than days'. Photo: Jesshoots.com

Taralga firefighter John Sullivan is part of a team investigating the use of drones which could equip brigades with the aerial technology needed to battle bushfires.

The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) is progressing with operational plans for drone use, and finding a role beside traditional firefighting methods, and aviation.

The service will also need to resolve issues with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).

"It is potentially a complex area," Southern Tablelands zone operational officer Michael Gapps said.

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The NSW Bushfire Inquiry into the 2019-20 bushfires supported the expansion of drone capabilities. It was just one of 76 recommendations into the Black Summer bushfires.

Meantime, Taralga Fire Brigade Captain John Sullivan, has used drones to support firefighting for four years, and is expected to be accredited by the CASA for a remote pilot licence.

The licence allows him to fly remotely piloted aircraft (drones) in circumstances that need specialist training.

Taralga Fire Brigade Captain John Sullivan and the NSW RFS progress with planning for drones on the fire ground.

Taralga Fire Brigade Captain John Sullivan and the NSW RFS progress with planning for drones on the fire ground.

A single drone operator could complete the work of several firefighters in hours, rather than days, Mr Gapps said.

"The technology available could greatly assist in the mapping of fire edges, finding hot spots on fire edges that may breach containment lines, and determining the damage extent of fires, particularly to remote properties," Mr Gapps said.

"Currently our options to navigate this kind of terrain or cover vast distances is via aircraft such as helicopters or fixed wing, or via ground crews.

"Utilising aircraft obviously has significant costs associated with them, as well as restrictions such as flying at night and also the availability of capable aircraft," he said.

As planning soars ahead, it is still to early to tell if units would be rolled out, and how the program would be funded.

"Drones are certainly another tool, in our toolbox, that will greatly assist our volunteers," said Mr Gapps.

"Although drones will be a great addition, and aviation is of great assistance, our volunteers are our biggest asset."

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