Home' Position : Position Apl May 2015 Contents When a fire or incident is reported,
and the emergency services
arrive on the scene to deal with
it, it is crucial that those in charge can
gain full 'situational awareness' as quickly
Without knowledge of the type of fire
or incident, its exact location, the toxins
that may be present, the location of
crews and resources, and other decision-
making data, safe and effective operation
just isn't possible.
Traditionally, fire fighters have relied
on voice communications and limited
aerial observation equipment such as
ladder platforms to assist incident man-
agement teams (IMT) in perceiving the
elements of a situation.
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV, aka
drones) -- thanks to their easy and rapid
deployment, high manoeuvrability,
and ability to stream real-time video or
imagery -- have the potential to improve
not only the situational awareness of a
crew, but also their safety: no longer will
responders have to expose themselves to
risk in the quest for information.
With these benefits in mind, Melbourne's
Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) has
pioneered the use of UAV in Australia as a
method to better gain situational awareness.
"MFB is the only fire service to
have its own UAV capability," said Will
Glenn, commander of operational
communications at MFB. "Queensland
Fire is introducing the capability, but
using an outside provider. No other fire
service is yet to take on the role, but most
are watching with interest.
"The MFB has four aircraft in total:
two CyberQuad Maxis (named CQ1 and
CQ2) used for operational use, and two
CyberQuad Minis used for training. CQ1
has an HD camera on board, while CQ2
has a combination of SD and thermal
imaging cameras on board."
The live photos and video provided by
MFB's UAV can be viewed by the pilot and
other personnel via remote monitors. Pi-
lots can flick between the two camera types
on CQ2, to view the incident or fire using
two types of vision, which can aid in seeing
through smoke and other obstructions.
The units' main uses in MFB are for
intelligence gathering during scenarios
such as fires, hazardous materials (Haz-
mat), urban search and rescue (USAR),
high angle rescue (HART), and marine
response. Further to this, however, they
are also used in post-incident analysis and
debriefs, fire investigation, media produc-
tions, and to help facilitate training drills.
"MFB has 21 trained pilots -- who are
also normal fire fighters -- available every
day of the year," said Will. "This allows
the UAV to be deployed to any type of
incident, fire investigation, or as a risk
"At incidents like the Bolte Bridge inci-
dent of 2013 (see photo), a UAV was used
to assist the crane driver in safely lifting the
crashed truck and trailer from its precari-
ous position with minimal further damage
to the bridge supporting rail and road area.
"UAV are also being used to assist
training drills, large exercises and, just
this year, will be assisting emergency
management personnel by flying over
planned burning exercises. They are also
being used within the Victorian state's raft
of capabilities, this means it is available to
assist other emergency agencies such as
CFA, DEPI, SES, and Victoria Police."
However, introducing the UAV technology
to MFB wasn't without its challenges, as
Will elucidated in a case study presented
at the AFAC 13 conference.
"The three most significant technical
challenges have been around pilot train-
ing, communications infrastructure, and
budget. The three most significant adap-
tive challenges have been around CASA
approvals, legal liability, and the dichoto-
my of opinion within the organisation."
Since overcoming these challenges,
the UAV have provided MFB with new
capabilities, including aerial vision, use as
a debriefing tool for accurate representa-
tions of MFB resources, and as an incident
control tool for management meetings.
But it is three main safety improve-
ments that have arguably proved the most
important: for one, the UAV have allowed
incident controllers and other emergency
managers to better track their teams on the
ground, as well as give them visual intel-
ligence from the air.
"Footage gained to date has revealed
many different types of situational aware-
ness that was not possible in the past,"
said Will. "Vision with thermal imaging
cameras allows incident controllers to
gain a much better insight into areas of
concern, hot spots, and exposures."
They have also allowed intelligence to
be gathered in dangerous atmospheres.
"At the Hazelwood Mine fire [in
February and March 2014], the UAV were
used over 16 days and captured footage
that would have taken fire fighters on
foot many more hours to gather," said
Fighting fire from on high
This footage taken by a UAV used at an incident on the Bolte Bridge in 2013
enabled the crane driver to move the fallen truck to safety.
One of the two CyberQuad Maxi UAV owned
by Melbourne Fire Brigade.
28 position April/May 2015
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