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Phoenix is slowly growing its drone program, which currently supports incident commanders managing fire-fighting resources.
The Phoenix Fire Department has adopted a mantra of “crawl, walk, run” with its nascent drone program but has ambitions to expand it in the coming years, a leader behind the initiative said.
Capt. Brian Geranen, UAS Coordinator at the Phoenix Fire Department, said during the Route Fifty Future Cities conference that the department has sent drones to 21 structure fires since the program launched earlier this year. So far, the department has only flown its three Skydio X2E drones, which are equipped with dual cameras, thermal imaging capabilities and optical zoom, during the daytime on weekdays.
Geranen said while it might have been tempting to start the program with millions of dollars and a host of equipment, it was important to get it right at the start and then expand as firefighters become more comfortable using drones. So far, the program has initial funding of $150,000, and the department has requested $250,000 for the city’s next budget cycle.
“We didn’t over-purchase,” he said. “We started really slow.”
Drones provide the Phoenix Fire Department with a 360-degree aerial view of fires and other incidents, which Geranen said helps “make the unknowns known.” Commanders can see any potential hazards and risks that could undermine the safety of the public or firefighters. Because drones arrive on scene faster than fire trucks, they also help commanders determine how to deploy firefighters when responding to an incident.
Phoenix City Council approved the drone program in February, and so far, appropriations have covered purchasing the equipment and accessories, as well as providing training for drone pilots and other support staff.
Other states and cities are slowly turning to drone technology for a variety of use cases, including for public safety. Meanwhile, a bill in the Senate would give state and local law enforcement the ability to use drone detection technology approved by the Department of Homeland Security, in a bid to prevent bad actors abusing drones.
In time, Geranen said drones could be useful in other scenarios, especially if they can carry a payload and deliver supplies. The department is also in the midst of procuring a data storage system for the video it takes, which currently is live streamed to commanders, and also giving the drones the ability to take photos that can be used for training purposes.
“We have a lot of mountain rescues here in Phoenix where people get overheated,” he said. “To have the ability to fly that water bottle to them … that’s something we’re looking at.”