HONOLULU (KHON2) — In April 2020, the Honolulu Fire Department (HFD) used drones to enforce then Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s COVID-19 stay-at-home and work-at-home order at beaches around Oahu. The drones played an audio message telling people not to gather or sit on the beach.

From brush fires, to hazardous materials incidents, to missing persons on land or sea, HFD uses drones for more than just delivering PSAs.

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“During a recent brush fire, an HFD unmanned aerial vehicle (drone) was able to use their thermal imaging camera to locate hot spots and direct crews to those hot spots,” said Jaimie Kinard, HFD fire captain and PIO. “The use of the UAS team increased our efficiency in extinguishing the fire and kept our personnel safe.”

HFD currently owns 10 registered drones, and the cost for each ranges from $1,000 to $30,000.

While some fire departments on the mainland are using drones to catch illegal fireworks users, Kinard said this is a function of the police department, and HFD has no plans to use drones to participate in law enforcement-related operations.

“We are continually evaluating, assessing and looking for ways to grow the program and further support HFD operations,” Kinard said.

One issue HFD crews are encountering is the increase of civilian drones flying over emergency airspace. Not only is it unlawful for drones to fly over people or above an emergency incident, these civilian drones impact HFD’s operations and pose a serious safety threat to their personnel.

“We are unable to communicate and coordinate with civilian drones and they may crash into our unmanned aerial vehicles, Air 1 helicopter or personnel who are actively mitigating an incident,” said Kinard. “A crash such as this can result in serious injury, even death, to our personnel and Air 1 pilots.”

According to Kinard, there have been instances when Air 1 has been grounded during an emergency incident due to civilian drones. This impacts not only the speed with which HFD can mitigate an emergency, but also may allow for the incident to worsen while Air 1 is grounded.

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The HFD’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Program is still a pilot program. They are currently looking to train more HFD personnel as operators.