Early on October 8th, 2015,
a fire broke out below the cabin of a boat moored at Captain's Cove Marina on Cove Way in Quincy, MA. The boat was owned by Steven and Barbara Marks, who were planning on taking the boat out of the water the following day for the season. The fire quickly spread to adjacent boats, incinerating eleven boats total, sinking three. The cause of the fire was determined to be electrical in nature and, thankfully, no injuries were reported.
The Quincy Fire Department received a first-alarm assignment at Captain's Cove Marina. When firefighters arrived, one boat was heavily involved in fire and in the process of extending to the next boat. It was a difficult fire for the firefighters to get to because access to the marina was obstructed by two large apartment buildings. The only access was to go up on the grass that provided a narrow pathway through the marina gate. There was no type of stand-pipe system; it was a dry dock. Firefighters had to haul hose lines about 600 feet to the docks wearing full gear including SCBA air supply tanks. The docks were floating docks and moved in the water, making access with the weight and hose lines extremely difficult. It took a few minutes to get the lines to the fire and get them charged.
The wind was blowing toward the water, not toward the other boats, fortunately. The challenge for firefighters, however, was that they could only fight the fire from one side. Boats were burning with billowing smoke and water was on the other side, but luckily, the fire was being pushed toward the end of the dock. Boats are made of highly flammable material such as fiberglass—which produces dense smoke—and contain gasoline and other flammable cargo. There was a lot of fire and intense heat. The scene had poor visibility from heavy smoke and firefighters could only view the flames from one side. Until the drone arrived.
Brewster had been the city's 911
emergency ambulance provider for just over three months, and Brewster ambulances were dispatched to the marina at the same time firefighters were called into action. Chris DiBona, Director of Clinical Quality at Brewster Ambulance and drone pilot, arrived on scene moments after firefighters.
DiBona launched the Brewster Ambulance drone and provided scene commander Deputy Chief Gary Smyth a separate viewing screen, enabling him to have a 360° view through the drone's camera. Smyth directed DiBona to pilot the drone at specific positions to help him get a better understanding of the scene so he could then direct firefighters and mutual aid units more safely and effectively.
In addition, a Boston Marine Unit
was assisting as well as the Quincy Police Department. Several surrounding community fire boats converged on the scene as there happened to be a public safety marine class being held in Boston. Many of these marine units came down to help out. Due to that class, there was a staging area of public safety fire and police boats to assist from the water side. As commander of the scene, Deputy Chief Smyth was responsible for the safety of all mutual aid agencies in addition to extinguishing the fire.
DiBona set the drone to fly an automated flight pattern, providing a 360° view at 60 feet high. It would fly continuous circles around the scene, and at specific angles, Smyth would ask DiBona to hold and hover so he could examine a specific viewpoint of the scene. This enabled Smyth to direct marine units as they began cutting nearby boats adrift to keep them clear of the fire. It was a coordinated mutual aid strategy that saved significant property.
Brewster Ambulance later provided
the Quincy Fire Department still imagery and video footage of the incident to help with the Fire Marshal's investigation. The department is using the still images and video from the event to train firefighters on unique scenes such as marina fires and to enhance their standard operating procedures.
This is one case study of how an aerial view feeding live information keeps responders safe, improves the strategy for extinguishment and coordinates mutual aid resources more effectively. When piloted safely and in cooperation with the scene command official, drones are becoming an invaluable and necessary tool for first responders.