How to Save a Life With Drones - with Winnipeg Fire and Paramedic Service

Transcript

Shaheen:
Hello everyone thank you for joining us for our pre-recorded Drone Safety Day webinar series Drone Safety Day is aimed at promoting safe drone practices and exploring the cool and innovative ways drones are being used across Canada.

My name is Shaheen Chohan and I'm a policy analyst working on the remotely piloted aircraft systems or drone task force at Transport Canada.

Transport Canada is the department of the federal government responsible for

regulating and developing Transportation policies and programs including those relating to drones.

I’m virtually joined by Scott Wilkinson project manager of training and safety equipment at the Winnipeg fire and paramedic service the organization that provides fire and EMS services to the city of Winnipeg in Manitoba

Hi Scott, thanks for joining us

Scott:
Good morning, good to be here.

So, I guess we'll start off with just learning a little bit more about Winnipeg’s drone operation. Can you tell us about the types of drones that you use.

Our primary operational aircraft is a Matrice 200 from DGI and we do also fly some training drones, some smaller phantom apparatus as I don't like to put the operational drone in the hands of the trainees until they're prepared.

Shaheen:
That's a wise choice: what capacity do you use your drones in?

Scott:
we honestly, it's almost all aspects of our service at this point we started off looking at it from a wildland perspective to identify exposures and track personnel in that setting but it's moved to capture almost every aspect of our service our primary use these days is in situational awareness at structure fires allows us to see all aspects of the building in the area for our incident commanders and determine a make a risk assessment to see whether it's safe to put our people in and we also use it a lot for search and rescue and water rescue where we can identify persons in need of assistance on the waterways much more efficiently than we can with ground forces.

Shaheen:
it sounds like drones definitely make a huge difference in these life-saving operations

Scott:
absolutely and we've had some significant incidents since the inception of our program and you know we've actually referred to it as a game changer as there's really been no other way to get this kind of information to our incident commanders without the drone.

Shaheen:
That's awesome, so can you tell us a little bit about the advantage’s drones have over other technologies that you could be using?

Scott:
well as I said we haven't really ever identified anything that truly equals the drone we do have a relationship with our police service where their helicopter comes into play occasionally but it's obviously not always available and cannot do all the same things that the drone can do so up until this point we have not been able to get those kind of views for our incident commander's assessments we have not had those advantages for search and rescue or training or safety or even in hazardous materials where we do it and use the drone to get in closer and have a look at the situation so we haven't found anything that equals it

Shaheen:
so, drones are kind of unparalleled in that sense

Scott:
yeah, I would refer to it that way I mean people probably never thought that that would be an integral piece of emergency services but it's become that for us.

Shaheen:
Have you faced any challenges in adopting drone technology?

Scott:
well just like any other public service I mean we have the budgetary constraints that become an issue but we've managed to show that the need for the drones and validate that so that budget's been coming along earlier on its managing all the regulatory and training requirements,  with make sure we're in line with everything from Transport Canada we know we did have some changes midway through our development that we had to adjust to which we did but at this point those have been the biggest ones just really the initial acceptance with people who were uncertain of the drone and then the regulatory and budgetary pieces but other than that it's been working very well.

Shaheen:
Can you tell us about the training that you put your pilots through for the program?

Scott:
certainly, so we start off with our pilots individually getting their advanced written theory through Transport Canada, they have to complete those examinations we then work with them to complete their practical evaluations to complete their advanced certification but at that point we actually put them through another 10 days of more in-depth tactical training for our department where we look at scenario flights working with our specific platforms and everything from night flights to live flights in different situations.

Shaheen:
That's awesome it sounds like a really rigorous training program.

Scott:
we like to think so.

Shaheen:
Do you believe that there are any misconceptions about drone use?

Scott:
I mean earlier on even within ourservice and when we started to justify the program there's people that look at it like it's a toy so we obviously have to get over that and show them the benefits and once they see it I think it's pretty obvious that it's not a toy it's a specific piece of technology used to advance our operation

publicly I still think there's that version of it that it's a toy and doesn't have to be dealt with under regulations and safety standards the same way as other aircraft but you know hopefully we can continue to make those improvements so that people are operating them safely.

Shaheen:
so, what are some lessons you and Winnipeg fire and paramedic have learned about using drones in life-saving operations capacities?

Scott:
I think the biggest things we've learned about operating is just the level of training and proficiency we need to keep our pilots at it's not something you can just take a quick forever we train regularly in different situations and have them adapting to all those situations so it takes quite a bit and then we have to deal with different weather conditions day and night flights so it's for our purposes what we've learned is the value of the training and proficiencies for sure.

Shaheen:
And I can imagine the weather conditions probably change a lot in Winnipeg.

Scott:
it varies a lot in Winnipeg so right now it's hot and sunny so that's pretty easy to fly in but we do get a lot of high wind conditions and as some people may have heard it, we have some extreme temperatures in the winter which does limit our flight abilities because the aircrafts are only rated to certain temperatures but we do our best to fly as much as possible around those conditions that we can.

Shaheen:
of course, yeah so how do you anticipate your use of drones to evolve in WFPS’s operations?

Scott:
well hopefully long term quite a bit I mean we're right now looking at replacing and upgrading our aircraft for a little more capability with some new technology and that's something we've planned for every few years to have the need with this technology's development to add or replace and to keep up with the level technology.

Our next kind of steps that we are actually, quite happy to work with Transport Canada on is the adoption of future beyond visual line of sight or short range beyond visual line of sight which obviously for us gives us more capability to see around structures go down the riverways search for people and opens up our efficiencies so that's the next and ultimately if the battery life the technology and the regulations get there we'd probably like to see these aircraft going out right at the inception of the dispatch and being on scene even before the crews arrived to provide that early intelligence so that's the long-term goal

Shaheen:
So, currently the way it works is that you have dispatch going first and then a drone is called if needed?

Scott:
Many jurisdictions are using an on-call process what's been the advantage for our program is that we do dispatch automatically on certain types of incidents so certain levels of structure fires water rescue calls hazardous materials and wildland incidents the drone actually runs out with the  right away at the exact same time as the initial dispatch of the other resources and at other times it can be requested by our incident commander so we are on scene often within five minutes of the initial call

Shaheen:
Sounds like a really quick response.

Scott:
Yeah, it's quick our guys get the aircraft up they're fantastically on the ball and well trained and they've got the aircraft up right away, that having it on scene that early is what gives the advantage to our incident commanders to assess the risks and make those decisions early on in the incident

Shaheen:
so, what's an average day like for a member of your drone team?

Scott:
well our pilots and our drone team are on a regular apparatus they're on one of our rescue units so they are just like any other firefighter they're responding to incidents they're managing equipment they're training all day but then they add in the aspect of our equipment maintenance for the drone program as long as well as regular training and then the drone responses themselves so they're they're pretty busy they don't lack for anything to do.

Shaheen:
in the spirit of drone safety day can you tell us what drone safety means to Winnipeg fire and paramedic?

Scott:
Well,  I mean from our perspective as an organization the safety comes from our knowledge and our work with regulatory compliance so we are very you know have a great relationship with both Transport Canada and NAV Canada to make sure that we're operating safely as we mentioned before and discussed earlier I think the training aspect is the biggest piece for us, we have a robust training program that ensures our operators are proficient and know those safety standards we have safety and backup plans in case there are issues with the aircraft and we're quite transparent with the public so they understand what we're doing in those operations.

So that's from our point of view but I think on a public side it's incredibly important for everyone to be aware of the regulations and why they're there they're there for safety purposes and to be following them because historically we have seen a lot of drone operation that clearly was not following safety standards and sometimes as a concern even to our operation.

Shaheen:
so, I can imagine the public perception has largely been positive about using drones in a life-saving capacity. What has the feedback from the public been like?

Scott:
We've had good reception from the public. I mean when we've been out in the media many times, the media is quite excited about the use of drones.

We share some of our drone footage with the media so we've got a fair bit of media profile in the public, response has been very positive I know there's been issues in some jurisdictions in North America and concerns from the public but you know we've been very fortunate here and I think partly because they can see the level of training proficiency and we've been very transparent that it's been very positive we have not had any negative interactions

Shaheen:
so, to touch a little bit more specifically on WFPS’s types of operations you guys provide a lot of visual reconnaissance for different types of emergency incidents, can you tell us a little bit more about these emergency incidents and what they compose of?

Scott:
yeah, I mean I  think our most  frequent use is that situational awareness or reconnaissance at our structural fire incidents we use both the optical zoom camera and the thermal imaging camera that allows us to see heat signatures levels of fire involvement in buildings and that

helps our instant commanders determine safety for our personnel and how to attack the fire more effectively.

So we've had some major industrial and commercial fires where this has been a game changer for us as well as the opportunity at some of these larger fires, as you can well imagine, a lot of smoke, not sure where to direct large water streams to put the fire out, the drone’s perspective especially with thermal imaging as well can help direct those.

So that's been a very common usage we're looking to get more into our hazardous materials division to assist them.

And the other main areas we've used it are our water rescue calls on the rivers looking for victims both with thermal imaging and optical cameras, and our wildland fires where we can get that view for our incident commanders to determine where the fire is, if it's

at risk for any properties, as well as where their personnel are located to provide better safety.

Shaheen:
so, you mentioned using a thermal imaging camera in your operations. I'm sure a lot of our viewers will find thermal imaging technology to be very interesting, so can you give us an example of when using a thermal imaging camera made a key difference in one of your operations?

Scott:
Sure, we've used it I mean extensively, it's been one of our greater tools with the drone so we've been able to identify again some of the risk assessments for our members on scenes we've had some large apartment building or commercial fires you know where our incident commanders have to make a decision on whether we put our firefighters in to make sure they're safe and when we see you know fire signatures or heat coming through the roof we know that there's a greater risk of collapse and on a number of occasions this has helped our incident commanders more safely deploy our personnel so it's a great piece not only for public safety but for our firefighter safety as well.

Absolutely it's important to ensure the safety of your people as well.

Shaheen:
given that you're located in Winnipeg are there any specific challenges or advantages to flying in that area? maybe the climate?

Scott:
You know we have a great relationship with NAV Canada here and our airspace has been a wonderful relationship so we've had no concerns with our traffic, our flight traffic or how to operate within this zone. Obviously as we touched on earlier the temperature can and the wind conditions can be a bit of an issue here in the prairies so we do get those issues that we have to work around or sometimes we are unable to fly due to the levels or the parameters of the aircraft but we've got a great  relationship here we're the we're the largest center obviously in Manitoba and we're the one the predominant ones using RPAS at this time so it's been quite you know we've had a good situation with all our agencies and  I think the biggest thing probably is just adapting to the different weather conditions I mean it'd be certainly simpler if they were more consistent but we adapted that for all our other operations as well so why not drones?

Shaheen:
So, that's it for our interview with Winnipeg fire and paramedic thank you so much Scott for joining us.

Scott:
No problem, it was great speaking to you today, thank you.

Shaheen:
we hope you found this webinar interesting the other webinars in our drone safety day pre-recorded webinar series will provide

an overview of the drone safety rules and explore the other cool and innovative ways drones are being used across Canada.

Be sure to check them out as well got questions about safe drone operations or something you may have seen or heard during our webinars

tune in to Transport Canada's twitter chat to be held on November 13th at 1pm we'll have a group of drone experts available on hand to answer any burning questions you may have - live.

Drone safety is everyone's responsibility.

To celebrate your own safety day tell us what drone safety means to you share a photo post or story to your social media platforms with the #dronesafetyday and check out Transport Canada's twitter Facebook and Instagram to see what drone safety means to other Canadians