Austin Fire Department operating UAS resembling fire truck

By Ann Bailey | February 04, 2016

The Austin (Texas) Fire Department Robotics Emergency Deployment team is using a UAS to improve firefighter safety and its response to emergencies.

The mission of the fire department’s RED team is to mitigate real-world problems through the deployment of air, ground and maritime remotely operated resources, Coitt Kessler, Austin Fire Department RED team program manager said via email. 

The department uses a Leptron RDASS quadcopter for its search and rescue work. The platform carries a GoPro camera, has night-time navigational lighting for its evening Certificate of Authorization, Kessler said.

The UAS is painted fire engine red and has flashing lights attached to make it look like a flying fire truck, he said The RED team wants the quadcopter to resemble a fire truck so there is no question when and where the fire department is operating, Kessler said.

In 2014, the Austin City Council authorized the fire department to collaborate with Texas A & M for a four-year study on the feasibility of using UAS. Other agencies, including the University of Texas at Austin, National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Fire Research Grant Foundation have contacted the Austin Fire Department RED team for future collaborations.

Identified uses for the UAS include high-rise fires, flooding, wildfires and commercial structural fires. Meanwhile, the UAS also can be used for purposes including hazardous material events, damage assessments, mapping and investigations.

So far, the RED team has used the UAS for a variety of jobs including damage assessments, prescribed burns and search and recovery, Kessler said. The Austin Fire Department is looking at deployment protocols and researching how to better affect emergency response with the use of the UAS, he said.

Members of the Austin Fire Department’s RED team include eight firefighters, battalion chief and assistant chief. The team has four licensed pilots. The RED team received UAS training from local professionals, including Gene Robinson, of the Wimberly (Texas) Fire Department, who is a pioneer in the operation of UAS for Search and Rescue.