Halifax Fire is about to add a couple of high tech tools to their toolbox.
Twenty firefighters are currently going through a pilot project to learn how to operate unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones.
“I’ve actually never had my hands on a drone before and at first, it was a little bit daunting because I’m not a young 16-year-old kid who’s playing games and all this stuff. But the course was made very, very easy,” said Jim Sutherland, district captain with Halifax Fire and one of the participants in the training.
The idea to add drones isn’t new. In fact, Halifax Fire says the project has been two years in the making.
The department recently purchased two drones and thermal cameras to add to their fleet of equipment. The total cost for the equipment and training is pegged at around $60,000.
“One of the things we can do with this is we can actually see a gas leak in the air, by using a thermal camera you can see the gas evaporating,” Bezanson said.
“Think of a scenario like a forest fire for example: to fly the perimeter of a forest fire to see where the hazards are, where the access points are, where the water supply.”
Other first responders in Nova Scotia have also turned to the use of UAVs. In 2014, the RCMP purchased five drones to help fight crime in the province.
WATCH: Nova Scotia RCMP buys new fleet of drones
Bezanson said other fire departments already have drones and they have proven to be effective.
“In Adelaide, Australia, where they had the major forest fires there a couple years ago, they figured they saved at least 400 homes with the use of a drone.”
Currently, firefighters often need to rely on helicopters to help assist them at scenes. The problem is that helicopters can’t fly at night.
The Halifax municipality has obtained a special flight certificate that will allow firefighters to operate drones at night once they are up and running.
“We’ve followed every standard that the Canadian government has. I don’t think there’s a lot of people doing that now,” Bezanson said.
Officials say the drones will ultimately help firefighters survey the scene of a fire. The thermal image from the camera attached to the drone will be extremely sensitive. In addition to identifying chemical and gas leaks, it will also be able to pick up footprints and assist in search and rescue operations.
Drones can also help identify hot spots and fly inside buildings to determine if they are structurally sound without putting firefighters at risk.
“The thermal imaging cameras is one of the best tools that we have at a fire but all we have now are the ones that are hand held. So, it’s very advantageous for us to have eyes in the sky and be able to predict fire spread,” Sutherland said.
It’s hoped that training will be complete and the drones will be operational in the new year.