Help from above: Drone offers bird’s-eye view for Nova Scotia emergency responders

Safe Community grant helps Oxford Fire Department purchase thermal imaging technology

One of the greatest technological advancements of this century is not just for multimedia experts—it’s also for life-saving emergency responders.

In Oxford, Nova Scotia, the addition of a thermal imaging drone to several fire departments will soon allow aerial visual access to some of the most hazardous emergency response scenarios.

“The benefits of drones are twofold,” says Michael Johnson, Regional Emergency Management Coordinator for Cumberland County—which stretches over 4,000 square kilometers in Nova Scotia, and is home to over 30,000 people.

“Not only can we visually access areas that we never could before, but we can also respond to any kind of hazardous scene without have to put any of our officers at risk.”

The hazards Johnson refers to include floods, chemical spills, fires, gas leaks—you could even say that the list “drones” on.

This infrared technology is enjoying increasing popularity among fire departments near the Oxford Volunteer Fire Department in Nova Scotia, as different response agencies use drones for a variety of reasons.

“In other counties, I’ve seen drones used as a first response to everything under the sun, including accident scenes, burning buildings, and even for missing persons,” says Johnson. “The purchase of drones is in conjunction with a number of our nearby fire halls, who will also be able to benefit from their use.”

Johnson says he’s hoping to have the drone purchased within the next two months.

Enbridge donated $7,500 to Oxford Volunteer Fire Department this year to purchase the drone as part of our Safe Community program. In 2018, Enbridge donated C$1.3 million across Canada and the U.S. as part of our commitment to supporting fire departments, ambulance services, and other emergency responders.

In addition to coordinating emergency response plans and contingency plans, Cumberland County trains local municipal staff, if needed, for its emergency coordination center.

“Though our volunteer base is small, we train monthly to ensure we are prepared to meet the needs of our community when called on to do so,” says Johnson.

The drone is one of many items on Johnson’s wish list, as he notes that equipment upgrades are a constant need that so many volunteer fire departments strive to meet despite minimal funding.

“We went with the drone as our primary upgrade for now, due to the one-time cost and the low financial maintenance required for its continued use,” he says.

Looking to the future, upgrading the backup electrical power source will be the next project that Oxford looks to accomplish. At the forefront, however, remains public safety.

“People have the greatest needs when something goes wrong,” says Johnson. “It’s so important that we as emergency responders be in a position to fulfil those needs in times of crisis.”

(TOP PHOTO: Members of the Oxford Volunteer Fire Department at their Oxford, NS, fire hall.)