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Lawmakers Want Firefighters To Be Able To Destroy Jerks' Stupid Drones

A drone flying (Photo by Dan McCullough via the Creative Commons on Flickr)
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After some jerks' drone-flying interfered with rescue efforts during the weekend's totally insane wildfire, lawmakers are looking to pass a bill that would allow firefighters to disable or destroy drones that are causing them issues. Assemblyman Mike Gatto and Sen. Ted Gaines (R-El Dorado) introduced legislation today, saying that drone enthusiasts are putting lives in danger when they fly their drones over fires and other emergencies, City News Service reports.

"Just because you have access to an expensive toy that can fly in a dangerous area doesn't mean you should do it," Gatto said.

If this bill—SB 168—were to become law, emergency responders would be allowed to take down any "unmanned aircraft in the course of firefighting, air ambulance, or search-and-rescue operations." Gaines and Gatto are also in support of SB 167, a bill that would force drone users to choose between selfishly flying their drones in emergency situations or facing hefty fines and possibly jail.

On Friday, drone hobbyists forced planes fighting The North Fire to land, while cars on the 15 Freeway burned. Drones might seem like small, insignificant toys, but John Miller of the U.S. Forest Service said that drones can actually kill firefighters, NBC LA reports. "[The firefighter's plane] can strike one of these [drones] and one of our aircraft could go down, killing the firefighters in the air. This is serious to us. It is a serious, not only life threat, not only to our firefighters in the air, but when we look at the vehicles that were overrun by the fire, it was definitely a life-safety threat to the motorists on interstate 15," he said.

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During the raging fire, five drones were spotted and Battalion Chief Marc Peebles of the San Bernardino County Fire Department said two of the drones gave chase to firefighters' aircraft. Peebles said this drone crap "definitely contributed" to the fire jumping the freeway. L.A. County Fire Inspector David Dantic did not comment the bill, but he did confirm that it's unsafe for fire aircraft to do their work when drones are using the same airspace.

Gatto said that they already have "ever-emerging technology" that could "disrupt and disable a nuisance drone." We'd like to speculate what that means: maybe something that jams a signal? Or maybe a laser that disintegrates it? Or maybe just an angry sharp shooter blasting the stupid things to pieces. One LAist genius suggested drone tasers and/or drone lassos. A Huntington Beach man once won a battle versus a drone with his shirt.

Now, this is something of an interesting conversation on when it's appropriate to use a drone, and what authorities can tell you not to. Sometimes, drones do capture interesting videos. One drone video of a yacht going up in flames was intense and visually spectacular, but the drone didn't interfere with putting the blaze out because rescuers didn't have to use aircraft to do so.

It's obviously very important that firefighters be given the best opportunities to do their work, especially when it comes to wildfires that can lay waste to huge swatches of earth at a time. In the Lake Fire last month, firefighters lost over two hours of air time after they were grounded because of drones.

On the other hand, the public is inclined to be less swayed when it's the LAPD saying the public can't use drones. There's a high demand for accountability from the police right now, and any restriction on when and/or how civilians can record officers is likely to be highly criticized. The LAPD told a civilian watchdog that he couldn't fly his drone over an Ezell Ford protest last summer, citing FAA restrictions on airspace. The LAPD's own drones, which they acquired from Seattle's police force, caused another controversy. Anti-drone activists expressed concern that the LAPD's drone use could get out of hand, saying that it was "a giant step forward in the militarization of local law enforcement that is normalizing continued surveillance and violations of the human rights of our communities." Those drones are currently not in use.

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