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Flying for the fire department. What are the rules?

TnDronePilot

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So my son is a firefighter here in Tennessee and he called me tonight and said his captain is interested in me being hired by the department to do drone work for training exercises as well as real structure fire scenes to get him better SA. I'm currently a recreational pilot so I couldn't be paid for my services if it's even allowed. I will be taking my Part 107 in March and know that only allows me to make money with my drone and provides me no privilege to "work" for the FD.

I looked up classes for using drones for public safety and emergency services but they all seem to apply to firefighters/law enforcement and not civilians. I'd love to help them out and would even add the Enterprise Dual to my collection for the thermal imaging capabilities but, I'm assuming than even with written permission from the captain, it's not legal at all and can get both of us in trouble. I tried to find very specific FAA rules on flying over active emergency scenes but most of the specific stuff just mentioned flying through wildfire areas can force firefighters to ground all airplanes and helis. I don't live anywhere near a wildfire zone so no risk there. I just deal with general medivac helis like everyone else does.

I'm assuming though that it's ok to record some aerial footage over their training exercises and just not get paid. Am I right? I'm a fulltime videographer and editor so I don't need $50 to help them out for a couple of hours but, I'd love to be a part of emergency scenes and help them out for fire scenes. The captain said he'd love to have me sitting with him in his vehicle so he can make better decisions. So, assuming permission from him is 100% useless, does anyone know if there are indeed classes that civilians can take to get certified for something like this?
 
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Brockrock

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All you would need it the Part 107 rating, and any UAV used would need to be registered commercially with the FAA. The next concern would be insurance. Just because its First Responder work, doesn't mean the UAV can't crash and cause possible injury and/or property damage. If the FD was to add UAV operations to their insurance coverage, you would want to make sure that it specifically referenced paid civilian operators as covered pilots. Alternatively, you could self insure and hand the cost on to the FD. Also, it would not matter if you just did this free - with no actual money changing hands. The FAA would view this as a commercial operation, and in the event of an accident or incident, there would be an investigation.
 

okw

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In addition to the Part 107 requirement mentioned above, you may also need certain FAA waivers. For instance; if you are flying over people, flying at night, etc.
 

Ron Caballero CAP

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All you would need it the Part 107 rating, and any UAV used would need to be registered commercially with the FAA. The next concern would be insurance. Just because its First Responder work, doesn't mean the UAV can't crash and cause possible injury and/or property damage. If the FD was to add UAV operations to their insurance coverage, you would want to make sure that it specifically referenced paid civilian operators as covered pilots. Alternatively, you could self insure and hand the cost on to the FD. Also, it would not matter if you just did this free - with no actual money changing hands. The FAA would view this as a commercial operation, and in the event of an accident or incident, there would be an investigation.
Exceptional answer. I would have replied much in the same way.
 
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jaja6009

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So my son is a firefighter here in Tennessee and he called me tonight and said his captain is interested in me being hired by the department to do drone work for training exercises as well as real structure fire scenes to get him better SA. I'm currently a recreational pilot so I couldn't be paid for my services if it's even allowed. I will be taking my Part 107 in March and know that only allows me to make money with my drone and provides me no privilege to "work" for the FD.

I looked up classes for using drones for public safety and emergency services but they all seem to apply to firefighters/law enforcement and not civilians. I'd love to help them out and would even add the Enterprise Dual to my collection for the thermal imaging capabilities but, I'm assuming than even with written permission from the captain, it's not legal at all and can get both of us in trouble. I tried to find very specific FAA rules on flying over active emergency scenes but most of the specific stuff just mentioned flying through wildfire areas can force firefighters to ground all airplanes and helis. I don't live anywhere near a wildfire zone so no risk there. I just deal with general medivac helis like everyone else does.

I'm assuming though that it's ok to record some aerial footage over their training exercises and just not get paid. Am I right? I'm a fulltime videographer and editor so I don't need $50 to help them out for a couple of hours but, I'd love to be a part of emergency scenes and help them out for fire scenes. The captain said he'd love to have me sitting with him in his vehicle so he can make better decisions. So, assuming permission from him is 100% useless, does anyone know if there are indeed classes that civilians can take to get certified for something like this?

I fly for a fire department through our city's Office of Emergency Management.
As stated by others you would need to have your Part 107. Other than that, technically you can go out and fly with the FD assuming you get legal permission from the city/county.

But both you and the Captain need to bring this to the city/county manager, mayor or council. There are much larger considerations. A Captain in the fire department may or most likely may not have the authority to authorize you to fly for a city/county etc.

There was plenty of great info in previous posts. Summary of things to consider:

  • Written Legal Authority to fly for the entity from city/town/county
  • If Paid, a legal contract spelling out compensation to include:
    • Rate
      • Hourly
      • Per Incident
      • Workman's Comp
  • Liability Insurance - Thiers or you provide
    • How Much Liability?
  • Standard Operating Procedures or Guidelines
    • Spell Out when you fly
    • Communications
    • VO's
    • Emergency Procedures
    • Who does the images and video belong to?
  • Are you going to be considered a firefighter with emergency response privileges?
  • PPE
    • Helmet
    • Reflective vest
    • Respiratory Protection (Trained in its use)
  • Proper Use of a Thermal Imaging Camera
  • Training in Firefighter Certification I, but if not at least know
    • ICS
    • Fire Behavior
    • Radio Communications
    • Emergency Traffic
    • PAR Reporting
If there's an incident/accident with the drone, most people will go after the city as that's where the money is, and the city may come after you if this whole project isn't ironed out beforehand.


Good Luck!
 

TnDronePilot

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I fly for a fire department through our city's Office of Emergency Management.
As stated by others you would need to have your Part 107. Other than that, technically you can go out and fly with the FD assuming you get legal permission from the city/county.

But both you and the Captain need to bring this to the city/county manager, mayor or council. There are much larger considerations. A Captain in the fire department may or most likely may not have the authority to authorize you to fly for a city/county etc.

There was plenty of great info in previous posts. Summary of things to consider:

  • Written Legal Authority to fly for the entity from city/town/county
  • If Paid, a legal contract spelling out compensation to include:
    • Rate
      • Hourly
      • Per Incident
      • Workman's Comp
  • Liability Insurance - Thiers or you provide
    • How Much Liability?
  • Standard Operating Procedures or Guidelines
    • Spell Out when you fly
    • Communications
    • VO's
    • Emergency Procedures
    • Who does the images and video belong to?
  • Are you going to be considered a firefighter with emergency response privileges?
  • PPE
    • Helmet
    • Reflective vest
    • Respiratory Protection (Trained in its use)
  • Proper Use of a Thermal Imaging Camera
  • Training in Firefighter Certification I, but if not at least know
    • ICS
    • Fire Behavior
    • Radio Communications
    • Emergency Traffic
    • PAR Reporting
If there's an incident/accident with the drone, most people will go after the city as that's where the money is, and the city may come after you if this whole project isn't ironed out beforehand.


Good Luck!
Thank you sooo much for this info. This will be very easy to pass along to the Captain.
 

Repaid1

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Thank you sooo much for this info. This will be very easy to pass along to the Captain.
Also of note is if the fire captain contacts DJI, he can elect to have your aircraft freed of any GEO Fence. There is quite a bit of proper paper work involved but it is done quite a bit for first responders. However that being said, if you are ever flying not in jurisdiction and under guidance of said Fire Department and misuse that waiver, there is going to be hell to pay :p

But it will allow a full use in many circumstances that may present it self during emergency's to include your right to be in a certain airspace over full size aircraft such as media. All flights should be done with care, but proper authorities will need to be advised of your flights within the guidelines of emergency aircraft in mission, in area. That would have to be all correlated by Fire Chief to insure warnings are in place for safe operations for flight.
 
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BigAl07

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Anything that is not 100% Recreational requires Part 107. Offering your services to anyone (FD, Chruch, SAR etc) is absolutely NOT Recreational.

I teach UAS In Emergency Services and give talks to Public Safety groups around the region. Just know, there is a huge difference between taking pretty architectural/landscape pictures and maneuvering your UAS in tight situations under high stress applications.

Also note that you're putting your UAS into a higher risk category than your normal flying will. Make sure your insurance covers you when operating for Govt/Public Safety as some have very specific exclusions.
 

BigAl07

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Also as a side note...

Always carry several spare SD Cards when you go to fly for an agency even if "just" the Fire Dept. If the scene shifts into a CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION then you would need to turn your DATA (SD Cards) over to the Incident Commander to ensure Chain of Custody over the data just in case it's needed in court.

We have always gotten our cards back but sometimes it can take a couple of weeks if it's a busy time or a significant incident. Plan to be without them just in case.
 

TnDronePilot

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Also of note is if the fire captain contacts DJI, he can elect to have your aircraft freed of any GEO Fence. There is quite a bit of proper paper work involved but it is done quite a bit for first responders. However that being said, if you are ever flying not in jurisdiction and under guidance of said Fire Department and misuse that waiver, there is going to be hell to pay :p

But it will allow a full use in many circumstances that may present it self during emergency's to include your right to be in a certain airspace over full size aircraft such as media. All flights should be done with care, but proper authorities will need to be advised of your flights within the guidelines of emergency aircraft in mission, in area. That would have to be all correlated by Fire Chief to insure warnings are in place for safe operations for flight.
I'll pass this along to him as well.
 

TnDronePilot

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Also as a side note...

Always carry several spare SD Cards when you go to fly for an agency even if "just" the Fire Dept. If the scene shifts into a CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION then you would need to turn your DATA (SD Cards) over to the Incident Commander to ensure Chain of Custody over the data just in case it's needed in court.

We have always gotten our cards back but sometimes it can take a couple of weeks if it's a busy time or a significant incident. Plan to be without them just in case.
Good point. I can only imagine just how many microSD cards accidentally disappear due to their size even if you give it to them in the standard size adapter. My dog recently licked one of my microSD cards off the floor before I could get to it and trust me, it wasn't worth digging through the multiple land mines in the backyard.
 
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jaja6009

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OP,

To let you know what you may be getting into. I just recently lost one of our aircraft. I was flying a mission for a preplan of contractor work under a large bridge. This was not a high stress emergency, but we still needed images of under this bridge. Workers installed decking under the bridge to be able to walk under it to perform work. The drone lost satellites and then regained them at some point and "jumped" on its own causing a crash. It took me 1 week and 10 pages of paperwork as well as losing the workhorse of our drone fleet. We didn't have hull insurance, only liability due to severe budget issues. Long story short, we have lost a drone, but thankfully there was no injuries or property damage. Hull insurance greatly increases your insurance cost.

If you do this for free as a public service like a volunteer firefighter, at least have the county/city/etc. pay the insurance.
 
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BigAl07

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OP,

To let you know what you may be getting into. I just recently lost one of our aircraft. I was flying a mission for a preplan of contractor work under a large bridge. This was not a high stress emergency, but we still needed images of under this bridge. Workers installed decking under the bridge to be able to walk under it to perform work. The drone lost satellites and then regained them at some point and "jumped" on its own causing a crash. It took me 1 week and 10 pages of paperwork as well as losing the workhorse of our drone fleet. We didn't have hull insurance, only liability due to severe budget issues. Long story short, we have lost a drone, but thankfully there was no injuries or property damage. Hull insurance greatly increases your insurance cost.

If you do this for free as a public service like a volunteer firefighter, at least have the county/city/etc. pay the insurance.

We just renewed our Commercial Insurance and Hull Coverage is a small percentage of the replacement cost of the aircraft. IIRC adding Hull Coverage on a single aircraft (depends on replacement value of the aircraft) was just a pinch over $120/year for 90% coverage.
 

iaincaradoc

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Good point. I can only imagine just how many microSD cards accidentally disappear due to their size even if you give it to them in the standard size adapter. My dog recently licked one of my microSD cards off the floor before I could get to it and trust me, it wasn't worth digging through the multiple land mines in the backyard.
An acquaintance of mine accidentally swallowed about 300GB worth of footage on a 512GB card (not from a drone) while swapping cards. He'd stuck the one card to his lip while his hands were full, and sneezed. It went in on the inhale, and did not come back out.

He wrote it off.
 

TnDronePilot

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An acquaintance of mine accidentally swallowed about 300GB worth of footage on a 512GB card (not from a drone) while swapping cards. He'd stuck the one card to his lip while his hands were full, and sneezed. It went in on the inhale, and did not come back out.

He wrote it off.
Not even after some poo sampling?
 
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iaincaradoc

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Not even after some poo sampling?
Digging for a MicroSD in those conditions would make me seriously question the value. He decided to just reshoot it.
 
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pnovotny

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So my son is a firefighter here in Tennessee and he called me tonight and said his captain is interested in me being hired by the department to do drone work for training exercises as well as real structure fire scenes to get him better SA. I'm currently a recreational pilot so I couldn't be paid for my services if it's even allowed. I will be taking my Part 107 in March and know that only allows me to make money with my drone and provides me no privilege to "work" for the FD.

I looked up classes for using drones for public safety and emergency services but they all seem to apply to firefighters/law enforcement and not civilians. I'd love to help them out and would even add the Enterprise Dual to my collection for the thermal imaging capabilities but, I'm assuming than even with written permission from the captain, it's not legal at all and can get both of us in trouble. I tried to find very specific FAA rules on flying over active emergency scenes but most of the specific stuff just mentioned flying through wildfire areas can force firefighters to ground all airplanes and helis. I don't live anywhere near a wildfire zone so no risk there. I just deal with general medivac helis like everyone else does.

I'm assuming though that it's ok to record some aerial footage over their training exercises and just not get paid. Am I right? I'm a fulltime videographer and editor so I don't need $50 to help them out for a couple of hours but, I'd love to be a part of emergency scenes and help them out for fire scenes. The captain said he'd love to have me sitting with him in his vehicle so he can make better decisions. So, assuming permission from him is 100% useless, does anyone know if there are indeed classes that civilians can take to get certified for something like this?


Edit: seems I managed to miss all the great comments before my response, my apologies.

Very nice of you to offer your services without compensating, however, it seems this would constitute a violation of how the FAA interprets the law. Apparently you can only fly for your own recreational purposes even though not getting compensation.

Also consider other issues such as liability. It would be a shame to get sued while volunteering.

For more information on public safety drone operations I highly recommend the very informative podcast 'Public Safety Drone Flight' by Steve Rhode.

There are specific episodes with interviews with persons operating drones in support of fire and rescue operations that will be worth your time.

Good luck!
 
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Ron Caballero CAP

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Edit: seems I managed to miss all the great comments before my response, my apologies.

Very nice of you to offer your services without compensating, however, it seems this would constitute a violation of how the FAA interprets the law. Apparently you can only fly for your own recreational purposes even though not getting compensation.

Also consider other issues such as liability. It would be a shame to get sued while volunteering.

For more information on public safety drone operations I highly recommend the very informative podcast 'Public Safety Drone Flight' by Steve Rhode.

There are specific episodes with interviews with
Edit: seems I managed to miss all the great comments before my response, my apologies.

Very nice of you to offer your services without compensating, however, it seems this would constitute a violation of how the FAA interprets the law. Apparently you can only fly for your own recreational purposes even though not getting compensation.

Also consider other issues such as liability. It would be a shame to get sued while volunteering.

For more information on public safety drone operations I highly recommend the very informative podcast 'Public Safety Drone Flight' by Steve Rhode.

There are specific episodes with interviews with persons operating drones in support of fire and rescue operations that will be worth your time.

Good luck!
Mr. Novatny is correct. You need to have your 107 even if not paid. As for liability insurance, see if the Fire Dept can add you as an "Additional Insured" on theirs just for the time of your flying for them.
Best wishes and let me/us know how it turns out.
 
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