By Mike Le Couteur and Rebecca Lindell Global News
Potentially life-saving technology is being tested by paramedics near Ottawa. They’re using drones as first responders to get to places faster than ambulances. But as Mike Le Couteur reports, federal regulations aren’t ready for this program to take flight across the country.
A rural paramedic service just west of Ottawa is plotting a new flight path for the future of drone use and is trying to save lives in the process.
Some of the paramedics in Renfrew County are also pilots, flying drones to help them respond to emergency calls from car accidents to heart attacks, especially in remote locations.
“It extends our reach into areas we couldn’t previously access,” said Brian Leahey, one of the pilot’s and the deputy chief of the paramedic service. “Picture a crew responding to the call and it gets to a point we can no longer proceed. We can now pop this drone up and continue.”
And in Ontario’s largest country, the extra help goes a long way.
Last year, they flew the drone to survey a snowmobile accident before risking sending someone out on the ice.
“We did manage to locate a two sets of gloves and two helmets beside a snowmobile-sized hole so we knew something had happened so then the measures were put in place to execute the rescue from that point,” Leahey said.
The county has five drones with different capabilities from night vision to the ability to drop a defibrillator.
They don’t have the full capability of an ambulance, but in some situations, like remote or difficult-to-reach areas, they could deliver life-saving equipment more quickly.
“For every minute that goes by your likelihood of survival reduces by about 10 per cent. So every minute we can save your likelihood of survival will significantly increase,” said chief paramedic Mike Nolan.
Renfrew County is the first team of paramedics in Canada to be using drones in this way, and they’re working with Transport Canada to push the boundaries on what’s currently allowed.
“We’re working hand in hand with Transport Canada to make sure everything we are doing is within the law and that the law is evolving to give Canadians their best chance by paramedics using drones,” said Nolan.
Transport Canada rules prohibit people from flying drones out of sight. For now only Renfrew paramedics, the RCMP and the Ontario Provincial Police are exempted.
But the paramedics are making the case that new rules could allow first responders to save lives or protect themselves by using drones to survey dangers before arriving on the scene.
A drone belonging to the Renfrew County paramedics drops off a defibrillator.
Rob Kazemzadeh/Global News
And there’s a lot at stake in this revolution.
“The consequence to us not continuing to advance is putting Canadians in harm’s way where we have technology that can make a difference,” Nolan said.
But others are watching carefully, eager for the rules to change for everyone. And even despite fines of up to $25,000 or the prospect of jail time, keeping new technologies grounded can be a challenge.
“Technology is moving faster than the regulation but definitely there is a huge market there for people who want to offer services,” said Charles Goyette, chief instructor at I/Drone Montréal.
Amazon and other delivery-based companies are waiting to launch their own drones – seeing it a lucrative way of cutting delivery costs.
But because technology is evolving so rapidly Transport Canada says there are still too many safety concerns.
“There’s a question with respect to visibility of this thing to the radar for NAV Canada, questions with respect to the control link between the station and the drone,” said Felix Meunier, Director of Transport Canada’s Unmanned Aerial System Taskforce.
Once those questions are answered the commercial drones should be cleared for take-off.