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West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service drone (unmanned aerial vehicle)

West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service now has a DJI Matrice 210 drone to assist them in emergency situations.

Why we have a drone and how it is used

The drone helps us survey an incident from above, providing live images and thermal imagery. By providing an aerial view of an incident, drones help incident commanders develop tactics to help tackle it.

Drones may also be able to access areas which are unsafe for firefighters. Overall, they improve safety for our crews and help improve our response to incidents.

The thermal imaging camera can detect heat sources and may be used to:

  • check the temperature of cylinders at risk of exploding
  • monitor heat spread in a warehouse fire
  • spot casualties in water.

Drone operators

In order to operate the drone, a drone pilot must have completed a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) accredited training course and carry out extra training for more specialist uses, such as night flying.

The drone is operated by a minimum of two people - one who pilots it and one who operates the cameras. Whenever possible, a third person will also attend to help with setting up and acting as an observer for any hazards.

Drone flight restrictions

As part of the ‘Permissions for Commercial Operations’, and also as responsible drone operators, West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service (WSFRS) will always ensure that the drone is flown:

  • within the line of sight of a remote pilot
  • below 120 metres in height
  • at least 50 metres from people, property, vehicles and vessels WSFRS is not in control of
  • 30 metres away from people during take-off
  • clear of any aircraft, airports and airfields.

WSFRS has a General Exemption E4506 of the CAA Air Navigation Order to fly the drone outside of the normal commercial operations under emergency conditions. These form part of the CAA's drone code and all responsible drone users will fly within these guidelines.

WSFRS operations will include responding to all incidents as detailed in the Fire and Rescue Services Act.

Drone camera

There are two cameras that can be fitted to the drone. These are:

  • a high-definition camera for image photography and video recording
  • a thermal imaging camera that detects heat.

A robust privacy impact assessment and mitigation has been created to prevent filming or photography that is not required.

Record retention

The drone will only capture photographic images or video footage if there is an organisational need. Any image or video that is taken at an incident is reviewed and either destroyed if not required, or put into a robust digital storage system, which is covered by a data retention policy.

When the drone is being flown the drone pilots will always wear fire service uniform to clearly identify themselves.

Detailed records about all flights, images and footage captured and any other information about the drone that is required by the CAA are maintained.

Last updated:
14 February 2020
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