Phoenix adds safe, efficient gas-leak repairs to widening use of its municipal drone fleet

drone gas leak

It may not be as spectacular as an emergency rescue or as glittery as a light show, but it’s the kind of action in the sky that the world will be seeing more frequently. Last week, authorities in Phoenix flew a drone to locate a major gas leak, and used video from the craft to collect information on the fastest and safest way to repair the potentially explosive breach.

Phoenix provides example of expanding presence and influence of drones in everyday life

Officials from the Scottsdale Fire Department deployed the drone Friday in response to reports of a gas leak in the northern section of town – a sufficiently large-enough rupture to emit a loud, jet-like noise. Relatively quickly, pilots monitoring images zeroed in on a section of the fuel line, locating a large tear in a section of the six-inch main. Once the precise position and nature of the damage was ascertained, the craft was flown over the surrounding area to give authorities an idea of the safest way to access and repair the compromised section. 

Use of the drone by Scottsdale’s Fire Department allowed all the inspection and reconnaissance work necessary to repair a major gas leak like the one on Friday to be handled remotely. That meant the many humans who normally would have had to intervene – at considerable risk of injury or death in the event of a sudden explosion – could be kept at a distance, then deployed for precise and efficient repair work at the last second. 

And it provided an excellent example of the ways drones are continually becoming part of how municipalities, states, police, fire, and emergency services, utilities, and other organizations are deploying the craft on a regular basis – and without the public having much knowledge of just how integral the craft have become to everyday life.

Drone used to locate, gather information on gas leak, decreasing risks to humans

According to a communiqué put out about Friday’s mission, the drone flown was one of three owned and operated by the city for a variety of emergency situations. Those include search and rescue, aid to the injured, fire detection, and now gas leak location and repair. That fleet can be flown by any of the 14 people who’ve obtained their Federal Aviation Administration certification, and who remain on standby and ready to act when trouble arises. Those pilots intervene on behalf of three battalions and a technical rescue unit the city maintains, as well as using the fleet of six uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAV) the Scottsdale’s Fire Department has of its own.

“This aerial system gives members of public safety a distinct advantage when responding to various emergent situations and large-scale events,” Scottsdale Fire Department deputy Dave Folio said. “The system is equipped with thermal imaging that increases the speed of detecting heat sources in fire situations, and thereby decreases the danger to the public and the responding SFD personnel. Thermal technology is also utilized in hazmat situations to aid in the detection of hazards and provides critical information to public safety members.”

The department has operated its fleet of UAV since 2020, using them primarily for assistance in locating and fighting fires. Folio says the craft provide 360-degree, live-stream video feeds for better situational awareness, and send exact coordinates of places where a blaze or other emergencies have been detected. They’ve also been outfitted with varying payloads of water bottles, life vests, helmets, speakers, and flashlights in the search and rescue of lost or stranded people.

Friday’s use of drone was among the first times in Phoenix that the craft was flown to identify and collect intelligence on a gas leak, allowing humans to stay at a safe distance until they moved in to resolve the threat. 

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