A Grand Search-And-Rescue Tool

Originally published at Drone Book
By K. Daniel Glover

The National Park Service’s recent drone search for two missing hikers at the bottom of the Grand Canyon wasn’t successful, but it highlighted the potential value of the park’s drone fleet, the only one like it in the national park system.

Grand Canyon chief ranger Matt Vandzura told the Associated Press that unmanned aircraft give searchers the same close look at hard-to-reach places as helicopters but without the risks. “It has dramatically increased our ability to keep our people safe,” he said.

The news of the search for a 62-year-old woman and her 14-year-old step grandson follows by about a month the release of a report about how drones are being used to save lives. Eight of the rescues occurred in the United States and contributed to the rescues of 14 people.

Grand Canyon National Park has five drones and four FAA-certified operators, according to AP. The drones capture video of the canyon’s rugged terrain for officials to review twice, once as it is recorded and once at the end of the day.

In November, after a visitor drove off a cliff and died, drones were sent in to examine the trees and brush and make sure it was safe for a helicopter to fly in and lift the car out.

The next month, rangers used a drone to locate a woman who had jumped to her death. Then they rappelled down to retrieve the body.

The dangers of flying choppers in the canyon were illustrated in 2003, when a Park Service helicopter experienced a mechanical failure and crash-landed on the North Rim. Those aboard suffered only minor injuries; the helicopter was totaled.

Other national parks use drones, but for wildlife research. The use of private drones is prohibited in national parks.


Lifesaving Drone Missions Fulfilled

Originally published at Drone Book
By K. Daniel Glover

Drones contributed to the saving of at least 59 lives in 18 different emergency situations around the world between May 2015 and last month, according to a new report. Eight of the rescues involving 14 people occurred in the United States.

China-based DJI, the leading civilian drone maker, produced the report based on news accounts of the incidents. People were counted as being saved by drones if they were “in a state of danger that could imperil [them],” such as floods, fires and exposure to extreme weather. The drones in these situations also had to play a “material role” in getting the people to safety.

The report calculated that drones are saving about one life a week. “For firefighters, rescue squads and search operations,” the report said, “drones offer an unprecedented way to quickly find missing people with traditional cameras or thermal imaging sensors, as well as to bring them emergency supplies such as water, life jackets, medicine and rescue ropes.”

The report found that drones not only enhance search-and-rescue operations and make them safer for emergency responders, but they also empower civilians. One-third of the saved lives identified in the report involved civilians using their drones.

The report mentioned the following livesaving drone incidents in the United States:

  • Four people in a Texas flood (May 17, 2015). The pilot, Garret Bryl, has become a drone celebrity since then. Featured in Drone360, Droneblog, The Huffington Post, People and other publications, he is scheduled to speak at the ASCEND Conference and Expo in July.
  • Two teenagers trapped by flooding in Maine (June 30, 2015).
  • A missing teacher found in an Indiana field (June 21, 2016). A civilian volunteered his drone for that search, and the success of the operation motivated the county sheriff to look into buying his department a drone.
  • Two missing boaters in Iowa, one of whom had a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital after being discovered (July 13, 2016).
  • A North Carolina man lost and stranded in his kayak (Aug. 26, 2016). “They knew he had diabetes and he was elderly, so they had the idea to string up a bottle of water,” volunteer pilot John Frink said. “I hung it from the drone and carried it to him.”
  • A 65-year-old hunter and his dog who got lost in Minnesota (Sept. 17, 2016).
  • A North Carolina man and his dog trapped in their home by the floodwaters of Hurricane Matthew (Oct. 9, 2016). A drone pilot’s decision to post a photo of a flooded home to Twitter led to the discovery of the need for a rescue.
  • And two lost South Carolina kayakers who were found thanks to a fire department’s drone with thermal imaging capability (Jan. 14, 2017).

Flying High Over A Bronx Fire

Originally published at Drone Book
By K. Daniel Glover

The Big Apple’s big investment in drones paid dividends yesterday when the Fire Department of New York put it into the air over a four-alarm fire in the Bronx.

It marked the first time the fire department used its $85,000 tethered drone in the field. “We were able to get a good view of the roof, which allowed the incident commander on the ground to view the firefighters as they were conducting roof operations, venting the roof and putting water on the fire,” operations center director Timothy Herlocker said.

Equipped with both a high-definition camera and an infrared camera to gauge heat levels, the drone weighs 8 pounds. A tether carries electricity to the drone to keep it charged and in the air indefinitely, transmitting video to a command post and the operations center.

The aerial views give fire chiefs insight into a fire’s hot spots so they better see where to send firefighters and how to keep them safe. For the Bronx fire, the footage confirmed verbal radio reports about the six-story building’s roof failing.

“With the drone we had good visual pictures, and it really helped us make decisions to put this fire out and keep our members safe,” Deputy Assistant Chief Dan Donoghue said.

The department has three drones in its fleet, and firefighters in the department’s Command Tactical Unit are trained to fly them.

“This new technology is going to make a positive impact in our fire operations,” Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. “The drone’s camera gives our Chiefs a view they never had before. It’s an important tool that will make our members, and the people we protect, even safer.”

Fire Destroys Local Business, Releases Hazardous Chemicals

Originally published at the Dominion Post
By K. Daniel Glover

An early morning fire at a Rock Forge business on Monday caused $100,000 to $200,000 in damages and released hazardous chemicals, authorities said.

No one was hurt, but two Brookhaven firefighters were treated on the scene and another, Darrin Evans, was taken to University Hospital because of dizziness, Brookhaven Fire Chief Steve Ayersman said.

The block building, about 40 by 60 feet, housed Buck Stoves of Morgantown along Route 7 in Brookhaven. The business is owned by William K. Croft and Kermit Menear, officials said.

Efforts to fight the fire were complicated by hazardous chemicals that caused small explosions, according to Brookhaven Assistant Fire Chief Jim Lipscomb.

Lipscomb and Peter Shumloff, chief of the River Road Fire Department, dressed in protective clothing and oxygen tanks before extinguishing two small hot spots in the back of the room. The hot spots had been smoldering since the fire was under control at 10 a.m., but the chemical explosions made them hard to reach.

The fire was reported by neighbors and passing motorists at about 2:30 a.m. and was under control by 4:30 a.m., according to firefighters on the scene.

The explosion, caused by chemicals becoming mixed with water, went unnoticed until daylight, Lipscomb said. He said no one was allowed in the building early Monday because the chemical reactions were causing a chlorine smell.

The Monongalia Hazardous Incident Response Team (HIRT), which had been on the scene earlier, returned to the scene after the reactions were reported. Unsure of how to respond to the fire because of the chemicals, officials called Chemtrec, a chemical advisory station in Washington, D.C., on call 24 hours a day, to receive a breakdown of the chemicals involved.

Chemicals at the site included HTH stabilizer conditioner, sodium carbonate, sodium bisulfate and chlorine trifluoride, all commonly used to treat swimming pool water. A 200-gallon drum of SOCK IT, the brand name for a liquid shock treatment, also was discovered.

It was originally thought that some carcinogens — cancer-causing chemicals — were on the site, but owners Croft and Menear said none were present.

HIRT Rescue Chief B.P. Shagula said the crew’s biggest fear was breathing the chemicals or having their eyes come in contact with them, especially the chlorine chemicals, which can cause lung problems. “There were a couple of Brookhaven firemen treated this morning for eye and throat problems,” Shagula said. “EMS treated them on the scene.”

Ayersman identified the injured firefighters as Deon McMillan and Brad Fleming. Ervin was taken to University Hospital around noon and was released shortly afterward, Ayersman said.

Shagula said the chemicals, which people use in the Morgantown area every day, are not normally hazardous. “One of the best things for us to do if that stuff starts burning is to let it burn itself out,” he said.

Shagula said HIRT is only licensed to contain hazardous materials, not to remove them, so he and Director of the Office of Emergency Services Ron Kyle recommended that the owners call in a professional cleanup crew. “If the owners start cleaning materials and kicking dust around, it could cost some serious problems,” he said.

Arrangements had been made for Olin Chemicals to fly in a representative in the afternoon to supervise the cleanup, Shagula said. Officials originally had planned to transport the remaining chemicals to the Sewage Treatment Plant, but the plant does not need the chemicals. Shagula, in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Natural Resources, continued to search for a storage place for the chemicals.

The cause of the fire had not yet been determined, but the state fire marshal had been notified of the situation.