The Los Angeles Fire Department is looking to increase its fleet of drones significantly to help bolster firefighting efforts around the city.
Battalion Chief Richard Fields, head of the LAFD's Unmanned Aerial Systems program, discussed the department's plan to expand its firefighting technologies, including adding more drones to its fleet.
The LAFD already has 11 such aircraft within their ranks, but Fields said they want to double that number to be able to cater to new deployments.
The LAFD - DJI Partnership
The LAFD is considered as one of the largest fire departments in the United States, along with New York and Chicago's. It has an annual budget of about $691 million, which helps the department employ more than 3,500 workers. It is so big that it was able to respond to nearly 500,000 calls in 2018 alone.
As for its fleet, the department currently has 258 fire engines, ambulances, and helicopters and 11 firefighting drones.
Most of the LAFD's drones were provided by Chinese manufacturer DJI, which the department entered into an agreement with back in April. This allowed the LAFD to become one of the leaders in using unmanned drones in firefighting efforts in the country.
Bill Chen, Enterprise Partnerships Manager at DJI, said its partnership with the LAFD helps provide the department with drone technology that have been specially designed for the public safety sector.
He said the deal between the two organizations also allows DJI to collect valuable insight into the challenges of deploying drones for emergency situations, especially in Los Angeles which is considered as "one of the most complex urban environments" in the United States.
The LAFD's drone program is proving to be a success for the department a mere five months into its deal with DJI. Now, the LAFD wants to increase its drone fleet significantly.
"Our next iteration is to start using our drones to assist our specialized resources," Fields said, referring to the LAFD's firefighters and support crews tasked with handling urban search and rescue and marine environments and swift water rescues. These teams are also responsible for dealing with hazardous materials.
The department is particularly in the drone's infrared sensor technology, which allows firefighting crews to properly assess emergency situations. Teams could verify what they are able to see from emergency areas using the heat signatures that the sensors could pick up.
U.S. Ban On Using Commercial Drones
While the LAFD's partnership with DJI is proving to be beneficial for the department, other organizations might find issue with such an agreement. There's a growing concern in the United States about relying on technologies that were developed in China, such as those from DJI and smartphone maker Huawei.
In 2018, the U.S. Department of Defense banned the use of commercial drones due to cybersecurity concerns. The move came after the Department of Homeland Security and several lawmakers called out DJI about the potential of its technologies being used in espionage.
However, some American organizations, including branches of the U.S. military, still use DJI drones for their operations.