For the last several years, Frenchtown Rural Fire District has hosted crews from the New York City Fire Department for mutual training.

Public Information Officer Mel Holtz introduced Lieutenant Fred Carlson with the FDNY Robotics Division.

“The fire department sent a bunch of our chiefs at the time out to different regions,” said Carlson. “Northern Rockies was one and the Southwest incident management team was the other one. The idea of implementing us and seeing what large scale events can do, how to scale them up, scale them down as far as tracking for finance and resources, it really just made sense. And the best education is just to be put into it and be absorbed in the environment. So the ability to come out here and train with the folks out here in Montana, which is partial to my heart because my aunt lives in Billings, and I love it out here because it’s far away from the canyons of New York City.”

Carlson said initially, FDNY used tethered drones, but now is using much smaller drones from DJI.

“The product that DJI put out was just hard to beat,” he said. “We essentially have a thermal imaging camera in the sky that can put real time information in the hands of the incident commander. It enables them to make decisions that could save property in life at a much quicker pace. It just absolutely makes sense all around for everyone involved.”

Because of the tight confines in New York City, Carlson said the miniature DJI drones offer the best images for firefighters.

“The regular use drones are the DJI Maverick and Enterprise systems, and they're about the size of a shoe box,” he said. “But they fly for 25 to 30 minutes and give us all the data that we can use and they're easier, more efficient and safer for our pilots to use at this present moment in time.”

Carlson said such drones are not practical for wildland firefighting.

“Out here it is definitely more restricted with what type of products they can use,” he said. “They're flying much longer distances than we are. We're flying over a six storey building at maybe 100 to 200 feet, and the people out here looking to fly a mile out, and it's covering a lot more area. So they're using fixed wing assets that can stay aloft for multiple hours and get data back for the foreseeable amount of time of the operation.”

Carlson said his crew is assigned to train with Frenchtown Fire District for about two weeks.


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