Drone Provides Overhead Eyes During Fire

In the town of Natick, Massachusetts, the GIS Coordinator steps out of city hall and now (with the help of a drone) supports firefighting operations.

In the pre-dawn hours of July 22, 2019, fire broke out in a Chinese restaurant in downtown Natick. The smoky blaze quickly spread, with firefighters and equipment coming from 17 surrounding communities to quench the blaze. Helping to orchestrate this large-scale fire with first responders was a man with a drone (and MapGeo).

Drone imagery thermal for firefighters

Click here to view the full PDF of the thermal drone imagery

“The drone I used for the fire was the Yuneec drone equipped with a CGOet thermal camera,” said Richard Ames, Natick GIS Coordinator. The idea for using recent drone imagery came from Applied Geographics. This allowed me to upload local imagery datasets to track project updates.”

The downtown Natick fire ultimately became a 9-alarm conflagration engulfing a building of about 13,000 square feet that housed several small businesses. This included a print shop, a Christian Science Reading Room, a Chinese restaurant, a pet groomer, and a gift shop among others.

According to firefighters, they kept running into “hidden void spaces” as they searched for the source of the fire, and had to pull out completely and attack it from the outside.

That’s where Natick’s drone, with the help of MapGeo, came in. GIS Coordinator Ames said, “ I was situated in the emergency operations center (EOC) with the incident commander (the Acting Fire Chief). I kept the drone on station for seven hours, with about five hours of actual flight time. “During this time we were consulting MapGeo for addresses and owner information.” He commented that thermal imagery was additional intelligence for the “big picture” concerning the fire. The MapGeo/drone combination also helped with safety and resource management. Ames added, “The fire chief was responsible for keeping everyone safe and making sure enough resources are available for the incident response.”

Ames said, “I have been an aviation enthusiast for as long as I can remember and have flown remote control aircraft recreationally for several years.” Ames has a long career in municipal GIS and started working on drone applications in 2015.

Check out this video to find out how to set up your own municipal drone program (Courtesy Town of Natick and Applied Geographics):

Another way Ames uses the drone/MapGeo imagery is for water tank inspection. “The town is required to inspect our water reservoirs once a month. So instead of putting our staff on ladders, the drone can capture time-stamped geo-located images of the hatches and vents with very little risk.” This program went live in September 2016 and has grown ever since.

About MapGeo

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