News

Drone cam makes firefighting tactical debut in Letterkenny fire

Written by Dale Heberling, Public Opinion Online | Oct 1, 2015 3:00 PM
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A drone mounted with a camera can give firefighers a tactical advantage, allowing them to gain an aerial view overhead. Local firefighters used the technology to help fight a fire, likely for the first time, this past weekend at Letterkenny Army Depot. (Submitted to Public Opinion Online)

The use of a drone-mounted camera at a brush fire at Letterkenny Army Depot over the weekend was likely the first "tactical" use of a drone by local firefighters, according to Franklin County firefighters.

Chambersburg Fire Department Chief Howard "Butch" Leonhard said he's not aware of the use of "firefighting" drones in the area.

Franklin Fire Company Chief Mark Trace and company member Brian Denham -- owner of the drone used at Letterkenny -- agree.

"I believe there's a (fire) company in Bedford, Virginia, that bought its own drone as a department tool," Denham said, "but that's the only one in the four-state region I know of. Around here, I don't know of anyone else who's using it."

Trace said the drone was a little late getting to the scene of the weekend alarm at the army depot for a couple of reasons.

"It wasn't our first response since it was on the depot," Trace said. "Then we had to get permission from the depot to fly the drone for security reasons."

The drone camera can be useful, he added.

"I can see its value in circumstances where it's a remote area with limited access," Trace said. "It's the best way to get the big picture. In a mountain fire it can determine the size of the area affected and whether there are multiple fires."

Denham said there are benefits in more urban areas, too.

"It can be helpful to an incident commander," he said. "Say it's a warehouse fire. I can be with the incident commander and give him pictures of the entire building, even a big structure like a warehouse."

Denham said the drone is his second. He acquired the current model in June because it's more sophisticated and can execute more functions.

"I'm still getting a handle on the operation," he said. "It's so much more sophisticated than the old one."

There are limitations.

Denham said the drone operator must maintain line-of-sight with the device, and that his model has a 400-foot elevation limit. He said he's operated the drone at a distance of as far as 954 feet away before the signal (and thus control) became very weak. He said he's ordering range extenders to lengthen that limit.

Denham said his drone is valuable in his pursuit of fire and emergency photography that he provides to several companies.

Dale Heberlig can be reached at 717-262-4811.


This article comes to us through a partnership between Public Opinion Online and WITF. 

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