Louisville fire officials pursuing drone - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Louisville fire officials pursuing drone

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A drone might be Louisville's newest fire-fighting weapon.

Metro government has sought bids for an “unmanned aerial vehicle” for search missions, surveillance during emergencies and evaluating hazardous situations, according to a request for proposals issued last month. Responses are due next week.

Capt. Sal Melendez, a Louisville Division of Fire spokesman, said the division received a federal grant for the project last year and expects to cover $11,250 of the device's estimated $45,000 cost from its operating budget. It would be the fire division's first drone, he said.

Officials want a drone that can fly for 25 minutes without landing; reach an altitude of 400 feet and speeds of 30 miles per hour; travel up to one mile from a “control station; fit in an SUV; and carry at least two pounds of gear. It also must have a thermal imaging camera, take still photos and record high-definition video.

Drones have caught the ire of privacy advocates and others concerned that such aircraft could be used to gather information on unsuspecting citizens.

In a statement, Melendez said “the drone will strictly be used for reconnaissance assignments to secure the port area, which is the Ohio River corridor within our response area. Additionally, we intend to use it during haz-mat incidents, high angle or elevated rescue incidents, large fire incidents or any type of incident where personnel access is extremely limited and/or extremely dangerous; thus ensuring the safety of our personnel. It is NOT intended for any other use other that those mentioned above.”

Drone use would follow federal rules and regulations, he said.

A bill pre-filed for the upcoming 2015 Kentucky General Assembly would ban police departments and other law enforcement agencies in Kentucky from using drones to “gather evidence or other information” without first obtaining a search warrant.

It's unclear how the measure, sponsored by Republican Rep. Diane St. Onge of Lakeside Park near Cincinnati, how affect fire departments -- like Louisville's -- that operate arson units.

St. Onge co-sponsored a similar bill in this year's legislative session that also would have allowed private operators, such as businesses and universities, to fly drones. The bill died in a House committee.

Ohio, Indiana and Tennessee are among the states that have passed drone-related laws, according to National Conference of State Legislatures.

The Federal Aviation Administration is considering new rules for drones, a researcher told Kentucky state lawmakers in October.

At that hearing, University of Kentucky mechanical engineering professor Suzanne Weaver Smith cited a study estimating the economic impact of drone-related activity in the state could be $537 million over the next decade, including more than $5 million in new tax revenue and hundreds of jobs.

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