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Phoenix Fire to increase drone use; Parks Department to start using drones

In its first year of using drones, the Phoenix Fire Department has flown more than 700 flights and credits the unmanned aircraft system with increasing safety and saving money.

The flights, totaling more than a hundred hours, have been used on fires, mountain rescues and investigations. 

Executive Fire Chief Scott Walker said during a recent brush fire, the drone revealed a homeless encampment, “Without this information we would not have known we had a life safety risk, something we generally don’t have in a brush fire.”

Getting an overhead view helped to determine resources.

“I talked personally to the incident commander,” Walker told a City Council subcommittee. “They told me they would have had to call a second alarm assignment had they not had footage from the UAV. So what that means is they would have had four more engine companies, four more brush trucks, two more battalion chiefs to respond to that scene and have to stage and be as a resource ready.”

Instead, those crews were available for other calls. Walker said using a two-person drone unit cost $193.10 per hour compared to $2,568.34 per hour for a second- alarm assignment. The fire department plans to add more drones and a deployment vehicle with monitors that can be viewed on-site. 

Since Phoenix police began using drones last November, the department has deployed more than 400 flights.

Commander Brian Regan showed council members how a drone was used to locate a suspect hiding inside a closet.

“The subject came out. When he came out, we could see that there were no weapons inside of his hands, we could also determine if he was going to be compliant or not and if there were any weapons nearby. So this increases the safety to the officers obviously on scene, increases the safety of the public and then ultimately the safety of the suspect as well,” he said.

Drones are also used to help manage traffic at big events and take aerial photos of car crashes and other crime scenes.

The Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department plans to begin using drones after the city’s Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Executive Committee reviews the department’s plan and policies. 

Drones are expected to be used for:

  • Trail inspection. 
  • Cultural resource monitoring. 
  • Invasive vegetation species monitoring. 
  • Trash and debris identification. 
  • Rescue assistance. 
As a senior field correspondent, Christina Estes focuses on stories that impact our economy, your wallet and public policy.