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Drone gives Kent Fire and Rescue crews a fighting chance

They’ve been used in covert military missions, by aerial photographers, and could soon be delivering your Amazon parcels. But now drones are helping Kent’s fire service too.

Since being introduced a year ago, the unmanned aircraft has been deployed an average of once a week to help with tackling blazes, investigations and searching for missing people.

It has even helped to rescue a dog trapped on a cliff face.

Maidstone Fire Station Manager Adam Green with the DJI Inspire 1 drone. Picture: Matthew Walker
Maidstone Fire Station Manager Adam Green with the DJI Inspire 1 drone. Picture: Matthew Walker

The 3kg kit, costing around £3,000, is fitted with an ultra high definition camera that can take stills or provide a video live feed from a scene and can use thermal imaging technology to detect hot spots or body heat.

West Midlands Fire Service became the first to use drones in 2007, but now two thirds of the UK’s brigades are using them.

Station manager Adam Green is one of three trained drone pilots based at Kent’s urban search and rescue centre in Loose Road, Maidstone.

He said: “The advantage is we can see everything going on and is safer for the firefighters and members of the public.

“After a fire a building can sometimes be too dangerous, but for investigation work you might be able to see where it started from the burn pattern from the air.

“You can find someone more easily in a missing person search because you can search a large area very quickly. The camera can stream images live to a fire commander who may be miles away, but can now see what’s happening on his phone.”

The drone in action. Picture: Matthew Walker
The drone in action. Picture: Matthew Walker

The technology can also be used in situations involving hazardous materials.

As an example a drone can read a label on chemical drums, keeping fire crews away from danger.

The drone, which uses GPS technology and can fly up to 400ft, is constrained by the weather – it can’t go up in rain, strong winds or at night – but the service is looking to get permission to fly it around-the-clock.

Mr Green said if the technology had been available earlier it could have been used in high-profile operations including the arson at The Works bookshop in Week Street in July 2015.

He added: “The drone is getting used more and more as people realise its advantages.”

Firefighters battle a grass fire. Stock image
Firefighters battle a grass fire. Stock image

The Kent Fire and Rescue Service drone has been sent out on around 60 operations. Among the missions in the last month alone it has:

  • Helped firefighters to locate a dog which had became trapped 15ft down a 60ft cliff face near Bluewater Shopping Centre.
  • Assisted in the search for a man who went missing in Seal, who was later found safe and well by other means
  • Helped firefighters to determine several sources of a fire in undergrowth at MoD land in Canterbury

In other hands, drones have also been used to:

  • Stop rhino poaching, by helping to identify where the culprits are and intercepting them
  • Track hurricanes and collect data on gathering storms in the States
  • Apply pesticides, water, or fertilisers in farmers’ fields
  • Smuggle drugs into prisons or across borders
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