This post originally appeared on http://www.firefightingnews.com/drones-saving-lives-of-emergency-workers/.
[Editor’s Note: Sky-Futures drone pilot trainer Frankie Suarez commented that they’ve evolved their training programs based on increased collaboration between police, fire and ambulance crews.]
Two thirds of fire services in the UK and half of police forces are now using drones or are planning to, Sky News has learned.
Specialist ambulance crews, or Hazard Area Response Teams (HART), are also expected to be equipped with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) this year.
The aim is to enhance working capability. Drones are already being used for search and rescue operations, and fire and accident investigations.
The Mid and West Wales Fire Service has been given Welsh government funding for some of their UAVs.
Steve Richards, the service’s station manager, has been trained as a drone pilot and says drones will save lives.
He added: “It gives you the whole picture so when you go to an incident with (drones) we can actually do a 360 observation and stay in a safe place… it’s putting the drone up instead of having to put the firefighters in there.”
UAV training company Sky Futures has trained 12 different emergency services in drone use since September.
Frankie Suarez, a drone pilot trainer for Sky Futures, said their programmes have had to evolve due to greater collaboration between police, fire and ambulance crews.
He said: “Initially we made scenarios specifically for each service but after a couple of courses we realised they were all interlinking and working together so we managed to develop scenarios that are relevant to what the guys will attend to.
“We have a marauding gunman terrorist scenario, which is fairly relevant these days, as well as a train crash, a downed aircraft, and a missing Alzheimer’s patient, among others.”
Sean Lloyd, station manager at Mid and West Wales Fire Service, said crews have been doing national training exercises alongside police.
“We have the (drone) resources so they use us. When we do get called upon, if we can go and save someone going across the line and getting shot, then why not use us?”
Hundreds of thousands of pounds is being spent in total, equipping frontline emergency staff.
Sussex and Surrey police forces, for example, have been given almost £250,000 from the Home Office to expand on a drone trial at Gatwick airport.
Sussex police told Sky News the money comes from the Police Innovation Fund which “rewards creative, collaborative and cost saving projects” aimed at transforming policing.
“The funding is being used to purchase a number of drones to evaluate their contribution to improving policing across the country,” it said.
Other UK police forces have also been using drones in operations for months.
Damian Sowry, Chief Inspector for West Mercia and Warwickshire police services, says he is hopeful their joint trial will demonstrate value for money.
“I’m expecting to be able to show that we can use these devices to protect the public… in a way that’s cost effective and really helps public confidence,” he said.
“Also that we can demonstrate to the public that we take very seriously the issues around privacy, human rights, and all those other kind of concerns that people legitimately have.”
By Adele Robinson, Midlands Correspondent
(c) Sky News 2016