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Los Angeles Fire Department Wants To Develop Its Own Drone Program

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The Los Angeles Fire Department is looking to establish a drone program to supplement training programs and improve visibility during structural fires. After over a year of researching the feasibility of such a program, the Department will present its findings to the Los Angeles Fire Commission Tuesday, aiming to acquire permission to seek authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration for the use of drones.

Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch Englander made a motion to request a feasibility report in April 2016, specifically citing the benefit of drones in assessing structure fires. The motion described how "the use of drones for this type of work may be valuable," because drones "could give the Incident Commander a superior ability to assess the situation while simultaneously keeping firefighters from exposing themselves to unnecessary danger." The Fire Department followed through by studying the drone programs at the Austin Fire Department and the Ventura County Sheriff's Department (Ventura County is the only public service agency with a Certificate of Operation/Authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration).

After a year of research, the LAFD issued a report outlining its desire to move forward with the program. The Department said in a statement "the primary use for Department UAV operations will be for training purposes and situational awareness during structure fires," echoing Councilman Englander's suggestions in his original motion. In their final feasibility report, the Department also addressed concerns around privacy and surveillance in the use of drones. Referencing the 2011 ACLU report on the dangers of surveillance by government-operated drones, the Department explains how the drones will supplement pre-existing tactics during training and structural fires only. It will also implement a secure record retention process and notify the public of all drone usage.

Drones have caused problems for fire departments in the past. Hobbyists have flown them near brush fires, effectively grounding aerial firefights out of fear the drone will "get sucked quite easily into the propeller of a helicopter or an engine of an airplane and cause the aircraft to go down quite quickly," according to NPR.

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Provided the program gets approved, the Los Angeles Fire Department Foundation has "agreed to fund the primary operating costs," according to the Department's report.

[h/t L.A. Weekly]