The message from Anthony Wallgate, chief remote pilot for Fire and Rescue NSW, is strong and clear: ‘Using your drone near a fire puts lives at risk both on the ground and in the air’.
Anthony is one of three members of the FRNSW Technical Operations Aviation Team and has been a firefighter for nearly 23 years, working in various roles including helicopter aircrewman and firefighter before the team began working with drones in 2014.
‘When we initially introduced drones, they were a tool that complemented all our other resources, but with the increase in technology, we now rely on them and they are an essential part of our firefighting and rescue services,’ he says.
‘They are utilised across our prevent, prepare and recovery phases and add a layer of safety for our firefighters in the dangerous situations we face.
‘We use drones including the Matrice 210 and Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual to create a fire intelligence picture covering fire behaviour and location over both daylight and night-time operations.
‘Having live-streamed video of emergencies as they unfold enables us to make decisions with the most up-to-date information. We can stream pictures and data, including thermal imagery, to mobile devices to map bushfires and fire fronts, so we can then allocate resources as required.
‘We are also certified by CASA to fly our drones at night, which is essential as we can direct our resources to areas of need to try to bring the fire under control while also ensuring our firefighters are safe.’
All drone operations are undertaken with a coordinated approach with procedures in place to ensure safe operations, as well as adhering to CASA rules and regulations.
‘If members of the public fly drones in or near a fire area, then we can’t do our job,’ Anthony says. ‘Fixed-wing and rotary aircraft can’t fly and are unable to fight the fires as we are forced to ground all aircraft for safety reasons.
‘As a drone pilot I know how much fun they are to fly, but think first, be safe and don’t fly anywhere around bushfires. To do so puts communities at risk and lives in danger, including those of our firefighters.’