How drones are helping to fight fires

28 June 2019 | By Robert Garbett

Notre Dame cathedral on fire (Dreamstime)

Drones played an important part in saving Notre Dame, and their role in fighting and preventing fires will only grow, says Robert Garbett.

The use of drones by fire services is nothing new. However, the fire at Notre Dame highlights how this technology enhances firefighting on a large-scale blaze – and saves lives.

While the cathedral’s iconic spire and sections of its roof were destroyed in the fire in April, the Parisian firefighters, desperate to preserve what they could of this historic landmark, looked to drones for safety and guidance.

DJI drones, equipped with delicate yet powerful imaging devices, helped to add information, insight and data to the strategy of the crews on the ground, while allowing them to keep a safe distance from the scene.

Using images and livestream videos, the firefighters could remotely identify the most critical areas of the fire, the current status of infrastructure and, most importantly, where to focus their preservation efforts.

Until now, drones in this role have largely been restricted to the use of small unmanned air systems (UAS) for surveillance, observation and intelligence gathering, plus some larger-scale dousing of fires in hard-to-reach locations.

As the technology evolves, fire services will become aware of the power of hybrid drones, sometimes called multi-modal systems. These can operate in multiple environments – for example, operating over a river close to a blaze which would otherwise be inaccessible.

Similarly, an autonomous or remotely controlled UAS could be rapidly deployed to a fire at a chemical plant, for example, where the presence of firefighters would be perilous. This is a natural application for drone technology and companies are already developing systems for this purpose.

While some way from widespread adoption, we will soon see these more advanced drone systems being deployed. As Notre Dame showed, drones have a key role in the future of fire safety.

Robert Garbett is founder and chief executive of consultancy Drone Major Group

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