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Chinese Drones Help US Firefighters Do their Jobs

This 2018 photo provided by the Menlo Fire UAS shows a DJI drone with a thermal-imaging camera designed by FLIR Systems in Menlo Park, Calif.
Chinese Drones Help US Firefighters Do their Jobs
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A growing number of American firefighters are now using drones to help with their live-saving work.

The city of Fremont, California uses 14 drones to help fight fires and carry out other public safety and rescue activities.

Jeff Kleven is the acting chief of operations for the Fremont Fire Department. He told VOA that, in the future, every fire truck will be equipped with a drone to assist firefighters.

Drones used by fire departments usually have additional equipment added to collect valuable information for firefighters. Such tools can identify fire sources, extreme heat areas and the positions of firefighters in the field.

Recently, a police search and rescue team in Fremont used a drone equipped with an infrared camera that can identify body heat. The technology was able to find a lost, deaf child at night.

The New York-based Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College examines the use of drones by public safety departments across the United States. The center estimated last year that more than 900 state and local agencies in the U.S. use drones for police, fire and emergency services.

The Fremont Fire Department received its drone systems from Chinese technology company DJI – the world’s largest drone maker.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, or DHS, repeated a warning that Chinese-made drones could be leaking information to China. In 2017, the U.S. Army barred the use of DJI's drones.

Jeff Kleven said his department takes such concerns very seriously. But he said officials have been careful to take steps to prevent any data leaks to China.

“We are well aware of the accusations that are being made. It’s not something new,” Kleven said. He added that the department attempts to keep the data local to reduce the possibility that it could be shared. “There are ways we don’t have to be connected to the internet…We can isolate our data within our system. We are confident with that.”

Romeo Durscher leads DJI’s relations with public safety agencies. He denied the accusations of information being leaked to China. He said the company has worked during the past year to provide drone users more security controls over their data.

“We are not in the business of controlling data,” Durscher said. “But we want to give the tools to the operator to say how the data is being stored or processed or transmitted. And those pieces are in place.”

Durscher estimates that more than 1,000 U.S. fire, police and other emergency first responders use drones. He said this has led to more than 200 lives saved worldwide.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Michelle Quinn reported this story for VOA News. Bryan Lynn adapted it for Learning English, with additional information from the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College. Mario Ritter Jr. was the editor.

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Words in This Story

drone n. a kind of small air vehicle that flies without a pilot

leak v. disclose information not previously known

data n. information or facts about something

aware adj. to know about something

isolate v. separate someone or something from other people or things

confident adj. very sure about your ability to do things well