LOS ANGELES – Instead of a helmet and hose, Los Angeles Fire Department firefighter and U.S. Navy veteran David Danielson is armed with a set of high-tech drones. Their mission: to prevent fires and mitigate hazards from the sky. 

Danielson spent 26 years as a helicopter crew chief in the U.S. Navy and now gets to apply all that aeronautical knowledge to help the LAFD expand its use of drones to tackle all kinds of emergencies. 


What You Need To Know

  • LAFD using drones for fire prevention, hazard mitigation

  • Drones provide firefighters with the advantage of aerial perspective

  • During active wildfires, drones can actively map out burn acreage

  • Technology has also proved helpful with department’s hazardous materials inspections


“It ups the game in the respect that we’re more efficient. We’re able to identify more hazards. When you have an aerial view you to get to see a lot of things you wouldn’t see from a ground level,” Danielson said. 

For a major precautionary advantage, the drones are deployed by pilots like Danielson to survey the city’s 140,000 parcels of land, both public and private, for brush clearance.  This is done each year to ensure properties have defensible space. 

What would normally take days and weeks for firefighters to do on the ground reduces to minutes and hours. 

“I can go up and do a brush or vegetation density study in literally 30 seconds an acre. And if there are buildings on that map, they can then measure out 200 feet from that parcel and if it hasn’t been cleared they can give a notification,” Danielson said. 

During an active wildfire, the drones can quickly map out burn acreage and use thermal imaging to pinpoint hot spots and serve as a pathfinder for ground crews to know exactly where to attack. The thermal tech can also help them locate a missing person in a search and rescue operation. 

The technology has also proved helpful with the department’s hazardous materials inspections, which have been a top priority ever since the downtown Los Angeles warehouse explosion that left multiple firefighters injured in May. 



“We can prevent the risks to our firefighters going into these dangerous environments,” Danielson said. “Nobody is getting hurt and you’re getting all that imagery and information.”

And at a time when social distancing, minimizing risk and cutting costs are at an all-time top priority, the drone program makes Danielson proud to work on expanding this technology to help prevent destruction and protect the community he serves.