Port Coquitlam Fire looks to take drones-eye-view on emergencies

stock photo supplied Gregor Hartl

Depending on which way their grant falls, Port Coquitlam Fire & Emergency Services may soon have some air support in their firefighting efforts.

Assistant fire chief Walt Warner was in chambers Tuesday to ask Port Coquitlam council to throw their support behind the department’s $30,000 grant application.

If successful, the Union of British Columbia Municipalities grant would pay for two drones that, if used right, would make the fire department more efficient while making firefighters safer, Warner explained.


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Currently, the department can only assess fires and other emergencies by reports from first responders on the scene.

The drones would give the department “fast and efficient reconnaissance” instead of putting crews into potentially hazardous situations, Warner explained.

In some situations, drone-mounted thermal energy cameras would also allow firefighters to pinpoint the location of an apartment fire or find someone trapped in an attic or another spot first responders might not see.

“It’s way safer for us and quicker for us,” he said. “The days of putting firefighters on roofs, which you know is extremely dangerous, is almost coming to an end.”

Given the ravages of climate change, the drones could be a valuable tool in tracking down forest fires in difficult to reach places, noted Coun. Nancy McCurrach.

While they’d likely need to swap out some batteries and replace some parts, Warner said the drones would last six to 10 years.

“We don’t anticipate replacing these drones any time soon,” he said.

Video would be livestreamed to the Emergency Operation Centre.

Besides emergency situations, the drones could also be used to investigate the condition of city infrastructure or to perform geographic surveys, according to Warner.

Noting the city sometimes hires drones, Coun. Steve Darling asked if the fire department’s drones could be used for community events.

While the drones could be used to photograph a salmon barbecue or similar gathering, Warner said he would want to be sure the public is aware of the drones at all times.

“We just want to make sure that people aren’t seeing the drone as a negative thing,” he told Darling.

Warner also touched on privacy concerns, telling council videos would be kept in secure locations.

“We’re not taking pictures of people’s faces or licence plates,” he said.

Council unanimously supported the grant application.

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