Drones causing ‘huge issue’ for emergency services in US

Drones are proving increasingly problematic for emergency services in the US, leading to calls for tighter regulations surrounding their use.

The US Forest Service has recorded 13 incidences of drones interfering with attempts to extinguish wildfires this year, with 11 occurring since June.

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In July, five drones circling a wildfire in south California meant that early response teams remained grounded for 20 minutes. Ken Pimlott, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, believes that something must be done to protect airborne fire fighters.

"When you can't support firefighters on the ground, fires get bigger," he said. "It's significant, and it's a huge issue."

Increasing drone use proses a problem not only for emergency services but also for commercial airlines. This month alone has seen several instances of drones approaching airports including John F. Kennedy International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport. Despite the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) imposing strict regulations on the use of drones, this has been offset by lower prices and hence, a larger number of drones in the hands of the public.

FAA rules stipulate that drones cannot fly higher than 400 feet, must keep their distance from stadiums and people and cannot fly within five miles of airports. During emergency situations, additional temporary restrictions are imposed. However, the legislations has not proved off-putting, with US drone sales expected to reach 700,000 this year, an increase of 270,000 compared with last year and up 572,000 compared with 2013.

Last August, helicopter pilot Jason Thrasher had to take evasive action to avoid colliding with a drone as he made his way to tackle an ongoing wildfire, with his report the next day revealing that he came within 10 feet of making contact with the airborne device.

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"If that drone came through my windshield, I have no idea what could have happened," he said. "If that drone hits my tail rotor, for sure it's going to be catastrophic."