Suffolk Fire & Rescue Service Gets Airborne

Jon Southgate is a Station Commander, his role being that of Deputy District Commander of the South District of Suffolk’s Fire & Rescue Service

Hello again. If you were on the Waterfront on the morning of 14th June, you may have seen the subject of this month’s article: we have a drone. Well, actually - two!

We were demonstrating the capabilities of the drone and our Swiftwater rescue technicians (SRT) in the Wet Dock, to a multi-national audience assembled by the Environment Agency looking into flood relief planning.       

The scenario was that someone was reported to have fallen in the water, so the drone was deployed for an aerial search around the berths opposite Orwell Quay. Once it had located the casualty - drifted and wedged under the stern of a motor cruiser - our SRT crew was mobilised in our new Fire boat equipped with an outboard motor. The SRT crew were then guided to the exact location by radio. 

The drone is operated by a minimum team of two: one pilot and one camera operator, which is essential bearing in mind the drone is fitted with both normal high resolution and thermal imaging technology.  

Since the drones became operational - in a partnership with Suffolk Constabulary - they’ve been used at a variety of incidents including missing person searches; fires at Saxmundham railway station and Halesworth town centre; a double fatal RTC (where one person left the scene at night), and even a suspected bomb threat in Sudbury town centre. 

This collaboration is also involving Suffolk Lowland Search & Rescue (SuLSaR) who have trained pilots who assist us, as do Suffolk 4x4 Club, in ensuring that the drone and pilots are transported to incidents if our normal Support Vehicle is unavailable.

This new technology now allows us to monitor and make assessments of an incident scene much more safely than before - even allowing a birds’ eye view of potential fire spread - and with its recording facility, all footage can become valuable evidence should it be needed. I must admit, I never thought I’d see the day when Suffolk Fire & Rescue Service had pilots!

More scenarios are planned in conjunction with ABP in and around the Wet Dock, including the possibility of simulating rescues from the dockside cranes where our Working at Height teams will be involved - so keep your eyes open for more exciting activity!

See you next month, stay safe!