HFD is expanding its drone program to save more lives. The problem? Crowded skies
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Honolulu Fire Department continues to expand its drone program, upgrading the technology to respond to more emergencies.
Above massive fires at businesses and over brush, a drone can guide firefighters on the ground to hotspots or out of danger zones.
The eye in the sky can also lead them to a trapped civilian.
For water rescues, the drone can drop a life vest to a stranded swimmer until crews can pick up the person. HFD’s drone can also get supplies like bottled water or food to a stranded or injured hiker who is waiting to be rescued.
“It’s a little less risky,” said Fire Capt. Jaimie Kinard, who pointed out that a drone can also be used in difficult terrain because unlike the department’s chopper, there’s no firefighter onboard.
But that doesn’t mean drones are without risk.
Fire officials say spectators using personal drones for social media videos are making it harder to do their job.
“It not only affects our operations but it also affects the safety of our personnel,” Kinard said, adding HFD had to ground their drone during a recent brush fire because three other civilian drones took positions above the fire.
Air One, the department’s helicopter, has also had to land because civilian drones got in the way.
“The only thing we can do right now (when drones interfere) is to back off because we have no way of communicating with that drone operator,” Kinard said.
If a private drone is flying in the emergency airspace, HFD notifies the Honolulu Police Department.
A spokesperson for HPD said a patrol officer is sent to try and locate the drone operator to ask them to land.
If the operator cannot be found, HPD reports the incident to the FAA for follow-up.
“It could be a violation if the drone operator is found to have interfered with first responder operations during an emergency,” the HPD spokesperson said.
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