Archive for August, 2016

Two thirds of fire services in the UK and half of police forces are now using drones or are planning to, Sky News has learned.

Specialist ambulance crews, or Hazard Area Response Teams (HART), are also expected to be equipped with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) this year.

The aim is to enhance working capability. Drones are already being used for search and rescue operations, and fire and accident investigations.

The Mid and West Wales Fire Service has been given Welsh government funding for some of their UAVs.

Steve Richards, the service’s station manager, has been trained as a drone pilot and says drones will save lives.

He added: “It gives you the whole picture so when you go to an incident with (drones) we can actually do a 360 observation and stay in a safe place… it’s putting the drone up instead of having to put the firefighters in there.”

UAV training company Sky Futures has trained 12 different emergency services in drone use since September.

Frankie Suarez, a drone pilot trainer for Sky Futures, said their programmes have had to evolve due to greater collaboration between police, fire and ambulance crews.

He said: “Initially we made scenarios specifically for each service but after a couple of courses we realised they were all interlinking and working together so we managed to develop scenarios that are relevant to what the guys will attend to.

“We have a marauding gunman terrorist scenario, which is fairly relevant these days, as well as a train crash, a downed aircraft, and a missing Alzheimer’s patient, among others.”

Sean Lloyd, station manager at Mid and West Wales Fire Service, said crews have been doing national training exercises alongside police.

“We have the (drone) resources so they use us. When we do get called upon, if we can go and save someone going across the line and getting shot, then why not use us?”

Hundreds of thousands of pounds is being spent in total, equipping frontline emergency staff.

Sussex and Surrey police forces, for example, have been given almost £250,000 from the Home Office to expand on a drone trial at Gatwick Airport.

Sussex Police told Sky News the money comes from the Police Innovation Fund which “rewards creative, collaborative and cost saving projects” aimed at transforming policing.

“The funding is being used to purchase a number of drones to evaluate their contribution to improving policing across the country,” it said.

Other UK police forces have also been using drones in operations for months.

Damian Sowry, Chief Inspector for West Mercia and Warwickshire police services, says he is hopeful their joint trial will demonstrate value for money.

“I’m expecting to be able to show that we can use these devices to protect the public… in a way that’s cost effective and really helps public confidence,” he said.

“Also that we can demonstrate to the public that we take very seriously the issues around privacy, human rights, and all those other kind of concerns that people legitimately have.”


Drone technology was used by police and fire officials Thursday to measure whether residential evacuations would be necessary during Thursday’s seven-alarm fire at a Gurnee propane-storage facility.

As of late Friday afternoon, fire officials had not released a suspected cause or damage estimate for the blaze at Pinnacle Propane Express. Gurnee Fire Department Lt. David Douglass said it appeared most of the damage occurred to propane tanks and their storage area as opposed to the building where the company’s staff works.

“The building is standing,” Douglass said, adding that company staff was at the site Friday, although the business was not operational. Gurnee Mayor Kristi Kovarik said Friday corporate officials from the operation’s business headquarters in Irving, Texas, made the trip to Gurnee to help assess the situation.

While the fire was raging Thursday afternoon, Gurnee police used a drone to monitor to measure the temperature of two large propane tanks on the property and determine that evacuation of nearby neighborhood residents was not necessary, according to Gurnee Fire Chief Fred Friedl.

Explosions rang out as propane tanks blew up during the fire, one of which was launched from the site and hit the wall of a neighboring business, Kovarik said.

The fire at the storage facility, located at 3895 Clearview Court, was serious enough to bring out firefighters from 30 departments and close surrounding roads, including Route 41, for several hours Thursday afternoon.

About a dozen employees had safely exited the facility, and nearby businesses were also evacuated.

The state Fire Marshal’s Office has not been brought in to the investigation, which is being handled by the Gurnee Fire Department. Investigators were working the scene Friday, Douglass said.

“There are no preliminary causes (to announce),” Douglass said Friday.

Kovarik said Friday that the storage business was one of the facilities in the village that police, fire and public works officials realized could be a potential danger, and plans were in place to address the fire when it broke out Thursday.

“We had identified it as a high-risk business,” she said.

The police and fire response “was so swift and organized,” Kovarik said. “I was extremely proud of them.”

Friedl said firefighters used foam on a pile of small propane tanks that ruptured and caused small explosions that added to the fire. The pile of small tanks was near two larger tanks used to refill the cylinders, Friedl added.

“It could have been much worse,” Friedl said. “If either of those (big tanks) would have (ignited), they could have traveled a mile or a mile and a half.”

Route 41 was closed for several hours while the fire was brought under control. Employees were allowed to return to a neighboring business by 4:30 p.m.

Pinnacle Propane Express representatives said they were working with authorities to help determine what caused the fire and reduce the risk of future incidents. They also praised the work of Gurnee responders and those from other departments.

There were no reported injuries.