A fire can spread in seconds, taking homes and, in the worst cases, taking lives.

Using a drone to get a bird's eye view of the blaze gives firemen access to better information - faster.

Hawke's Bay Assistant Area Commander Glen Varcoe says that firefighters are often put at risk, "so hazardous substance environment, an environment where for example a car may go over a cliff, rather than just throw our guys over the edge we can put the drone over and get more awareness of what we're dealing with".

He says extra information that the drone can obtain may help them to pre plan.


Mr Varcoe has learnt to fly the drone in Hawke's Bay - one of the regions where the drone, also known as the unmanned aerial system or remote piloted aircraft system is being tested as a tool for emergency situations.

"Hawke's Bay compared to the rest of the country is a unique environment," Mr Varcoe says.

"We have urban, rural, I guess you could say Hawke's Bay is a jack of all trade master of none so we have a lot of different incidents we can respond to by comparison to different parts of the country."

Hawke's Bay Area Manager Kenneth Cooper says the region's Fire Service is proactive.

"We have been used for many trials over the years, therefore the drone project is ideal to test out what it would be used for in the future."

The Fire Service currently operates the drones under the same regulations as the general public.

But they're considering a 102 application which would give them provisions to work outside of those regulations, allowing them to train their own staff, operate the drone out of the line of sight and in hours of darkness.

Mr Varcoe says firefighter safety is paramount and if the drone can help them to provide a safer environment then more situational awareness will be possible, too.

Hawke's Bay had some large fires over summer and the drone is now being used for post-fire investigations.

The thermal imaging camera can also be used to detect hotspots.

"Because it's new it's been a hard sell, fire fighters just want to get out there... put the fire out, so it's a new concept, we're still working to see how that fits in with our everyday work," he says.

"Eventually it will be a normal part of our commander control capability where you'll see a drone at nearly every fire assisting the commander with their commander control."

The Fire Service is constantly working with other partner agencies, such as police and ambulance, Mr Varcoe says another primary function of the drone is to enable them to work closer with those agencies.

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