Duluth Fire Department Adding Drones

Baihly Warfield
Updated: March 03, 2018 10:13 AM

Technology continues to enhance how our first responders can handle incidents, and the Duluth Fire Department will soon be adding three drones to its toolkit. 

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Fire Chief Dennis Edwards said this has been in the works since before he even became chief. 

"It's just going to enhance everything we do, whether it's hazmat, or wildland fire, search and rescue, water rescue," Edwards said. 

He'll be purchasing three drones out of DFD's HAZMAT budget, which comes from state dollars. They will spread the purchase out over three years, and he said it won't interrupt any of their normal services. 

A presentation given to the City Council said they will spend $10,000 the first budget cycle, $62,000 the second and $30,000 the third. Edwards said it's a significant investment but worth the money.

"We feel that it's going to make our abilities to provide the public safety that we do better, and it's going to make it safer for our people," he said. 

Edwards is buying two DJI Matrice drones, which have cameras with zoom and thermal imaging capabilities. He will also purchase a Flyability Elios, which has a protective frame around it to make it more crash-tolerant. 

But the technology doesn't replace the human work. 

"Our firefighters are still going to be kicking down doors and entering burning buildings," Edwards said. "They're still going to have to get into confined spaces for rescues, and they're still going to be doing rope rescue."

Speaking of ropes, the Matrice drones will be able to carry up to 5 pounds of equipment.

"If you picture a water rescue at Park Point or even if we need to get a rope across a river during a flood or something, these will be the tools that will allow us to do those things," Edwards said.

The chief said his incident commanders will get a wider view and a better sense of how a potentially dangerous scene is unfolding.

"They'll be able to see what's going on without necessarily having to ask everyone who is out of view of the incident commander," Edwards said.

More than the fire department will benefit from this program. 

"We're going to have a bunch of pilots that are going to need practice and training, and then while they're doing that, they'll be able to help out some of our other city departments," Edwards said. "We can take pictures of parks, and trails."

The City Council presentation also suggested the drone could help facilities teams with building inspections and property surveys. And they could be used in the Public Works Department for project surveys and infrastructure inspections. 

Edwards hopes the video captured will make public safety in Duluth better all around. 

He expects they will be in use by late spring or early summer.


Baihly Warfield

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