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Two drones take flight above Lynchburg train derail – Did IC know about tree-top level fly-over?

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So, you are in charge of a large scale hazardous materials incident like yesterday’s (Wednesday) train derailment and fire in Lynchburg and suddenly you see two drones or UAVs flying above or near your scene. Should you be concerned?

The video above is from the drone flying right over the derailed and burned out train. It’s from Sam Scott at I first saw his video on WDBJ-TV. I am curious if the IC was aware of this tree-top flyover of his scene.

VA Lynchburg train derail & fire 3 4-30-14

I called Mr. Scott to ask if the flight was done in coordination with those in charge and received a reply of “no comment”.

Below is a second video from a UAV launched from the other side of the James River. This one does not get as up-close & personal with the train.

Expect to see more and more of these flights above your incident scenes. Any thoughts on how you will deal with it or if it is even a concern?

Also, there is some additional early video (non-drone) from the incident, below.



Comments - Add Yours

  • Fire21

    As a commander, I don’t think I’d bother about them being up there. Not really any different than videos from ground level. If they got so close as to be in the way, shoot em down with water…”Oh gosh, the hose got away from me for a second.” As a commander I do think it’d be great to have one and a skilled operator on large incidents.

  • Doug Walton

    It seems to me that these UAVs could be quite beneficial to the command staff, as well as others – provided that their use is coordinated. That doesn’t seem to be the case in this incident. I would imagine that the real-time (or nearly real-time) data provided by the drones could play a role in the operation.

  • Justin Coan

    As an IC I would have let him get even closer if he was going to share it with me on scene prior to running off with it to the media. I think drones have a place, maybe even more so on scenes like these. My concern might be contamination (not on this scene but on other hazmats) of the drone and it then wandering off scene.

  • Mark Bernas

    Personally, I would see this as a reconnaissance asset… if offered access to the video feed during the incident. Otherwise, I don’t see any immediate problem with it beyond potential privacy concerns for injured or deceased persons. Observers at a scene are nothing new; there’s just new space to observe from now.

  • JLo

    Not on all scenes but on some law enforcement sensitive ones I can see a shotgun with birdshot coming into play.

  • Truckie

    I would think technically, his drone is a part of him by proxy. So my opinion is that he technically crossed a secure fire line although his body was not that part. If I were I/C of this incident, my steps would be the following. I would consult L/E to see if any laws were broken with regards to the drone crossing into a secured fire scene. I would think they were. Then, I would have a sit down with the individual and the FD and L/E would discuss the law that was broken, why, and how, and then the FD would pursue charges. Why you ask, because IMHO, if these situations are not handled, these things will become a problem during operations. Sort of nip it in the bud quick. The “no comment” remark leads me to believe his intentions were to sneak around and get some cool footage from his techno-toy. So he probably knew that what he was doing was sketchy. Now, I can see these things being valuable for departments during large scale operations. A set of eyes capable to quickly survey the entire scene and report back via video the current situation. But only if all parties involved are aware of whats going on. So that’s my .02… Imagine this, a HazMat Team doing air monitoring recon on that scene and a flammable atmosphere was detected. Then, an electric powered drone flies over and an electrical source ignites the vapors. We’d be signing a different tune I think. Just a thought….

  • Max Messinger

    Coming from the somewhat unique perspective of someone who works for an EMS agency, has worked for a rescue agency, and currently conducts biological research using drones similar to the ones in question here to collect aerial imagery, I would say that in most cases it is not of concern to the IC. I see them as not being very different from the news helicopters typically found over a scene. The only risk I see is the operator losing the drone in a crash, but that would be his loss and would not really have any impact on operations on the ground. The exception would be if they endanger personnel on the ground which, in this case, they do not appear to.

    The footage from drones could certainly be of great use to the IC on the fireground, especially in cases where it is unsafe to enter the hot zone. Unfortunately it looks like the video here wasn’t passed along to the IC, which is a shame. In the future I would expect these to be common on the fireground, even being utilized directly by the IC. Imagine if these became ubiquitous like handheld thermal imagers have and an IC was able to sit in his command vehicle and observe the scene from 3-4 aerial perspectives in both visible and thermal imagery, all in real-time. The technology is already there, it just takes adoption.

  • DStatter

    Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE smartphone

    ——– Original message ——–

  • DStatter

    There is no doubt there are times an IC could benefit from such a view. My only real concern for this would be safety, particularly a UAV flying into a another aircraft (UAV or manned) or poor skills by the operator result in it crashing into the scene. There is not only potential for injury for personnel, but the potential for ignition of leaking hazardous material. At least with the news chopper there is a licensed pilot who is required to follow certain rules and regulations. In this case you had two drones flying, imagine what it might be like a year from now as these become more popular with the citizenry and with public safety. There are already fire departments who own these devices,

  • Steve in NJ

    I agree with Truckie. Unlike a news chopper, if a drone crosses into a secure area you have no way of contacting the drone to clear the airspace. Technically this is an unauthorized cross into a crime scene. In the initial aftermath did the IC have any way of knowing that this was not a terrorist or intentional act? That said, if it was an intentional act, how do you know if the drone isn’t the person responsible for the act flying over to assess the impact of the act and the response of fire/EMS and law enforcement? Additionally, at what point is this going to become ridiculous? With the proliferation of drones it is only a matter of time before you have 10-20 of theses things flying over every major incident. I think it is inevitable that we will see some type of legislation in the near future that restricts the use of drones over emergency scenes.

  • Msradell

    This video, as well as several others similar to it that I’ve seen demonstrate how capable drones like this have become. That versatility combined with reasonably priced options for purchase, I believe will soon make these as common in the fire service as IR cameras are now. Especially in hazardous material incidents they would be a godsend in many cases.
    Like many of the other posters here I really don’t see any problem with how it was flown in this situation. It wasn’t really an active fire scene at the time the videos were filmed so they obviously were not interfering with ongoing operations. Even if it had been an active fire scene I don’t believe flying the drone over the same can be considered crossing the fire line because the area is not a “no-fly zone”.

  • J.R. Shultz

    It is an interesting thought; will UAVs or “drones” be used for larger scale emergency operations in the future? Can you get eyes on a scene without putting your immediate first responders in danger.

  • danger?

    Drones certainly can be an asset to an OIC. Are these drones intrinsically safe? How do we handle a ignition source flying over and into a hot zone which could have flammable vapors?

  • ShamrockCapt

    This would be a tremendous asset as long as you have access to the operator and the video during the incident. If drones become more widespread, it is just a matter of time before someone crashes one and sues the FD for letting him fly it over the scene…

  • Truckie

    See, we learn something everyday! Thanks for the reply, good info to have….