This pilot proves drones save lives

Garret Bryl

Up&Up: Garret Bryl

UAS Pilot for the City of Joshua, TX, Fire Department

Garret is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force who has a day job as an aerospace engineer. But he’s also a volunteer UAS Pilot for the Joshua, Texas, Fire Department and can often be found flying drones to assist responders during emergency situations. Through his efforts, drones have become an integral — and life-saving — part of his community’s public safety program. At ASCEND, Garret will share lessons learned from integrating civilian drone pilots into public safety programs. In this Q&A you’ll get a preview of the insights he’ll offer.

Q: How did you make the leap from the Air Force and aerospace engineering to drones?

A: Actually I didn't make a leap, but rather added UAS to my life, and I still do both. I am an engineer by trade and I fly UAS for the Joshua Fire Department and regional public safety agencies almost daily. I am very much dedicated to both, and I have been known to leave the office to fly on an emergency and then return to complete my engineering work.

Flying for the fire department started back in 2014 as a challenge rather than an inspiration. One of the core values of my family is to use our gifts and talents to help others. I was flying a DJI Phantom 2 at the time, and my wife challenged me to combine our core values with UAS. So I arranged a meeting with the City of Joshua Fire Chief, Wayne Baker, and he decided to allow me to fly on some incidents. We both quickly realized the immense value of drones, and the program rapidly expanded to the point where we fly them on every type of incident except for medical calls and fender benders.

Q: Can you describe a particularly inspirational or inspiring moment when a drone made a difference in a critical situation?

A: There have been numerous ones, but the most outstanding would have to be the infamous day, May 17, 2015. On that day the DJI Inspire1 UAS dubbed "Valkyrie" was used to help rescue four people in two separate incidents.

After nearly a month of rain, a flash flood had created an emergency situation in nearby Venus. In the first incident, a pickup truck with two occupants drove around a blockade and was swept off the road by rushing swift waters. The Joshua Fire Department was requested to support the search via mutual aid. It took about 45 minutes to arrive. By that time, other departments had been using a hovercraft and searching for the victims for about an hour. There were discussions about abandoning the search. Chief Baker ordered Valkyrie to the sky, which discovered the victims in less than one minute. A spotlight mounted to Valkyrie was used to guide the hovercraft to the pickup truck, and rescue both people.

Shortly after that, a call went out to help a couple who had awoken to find themselves in danger of being swept away by the fast moving-waters that engulfed the bottom of their elevated house. Chief Baker again ordered Valkyrie into action to deliver a "tag line" -- a light-weight line -- to the hands of the husband. The tag line was then used to pull a full-sized rescue line to the family’s home, and both people were brought to safety.

Q: What are you working on right now that you’re excited about?

A: Chief Baker and I are working alongside other public safety agencies to further expand the regional Public Safety UAS Response Team. One UAS is a very powerful tool in public safety, but when there is a large incident, a wide search area, or a disaster, there is power in numbers. The ability to fill the sky with UAS provides an aerial coverage and situational awareness that is otherwise unobtainable. Our team’s multi-UAS tactics are being continuously improved, and the team is expanding as additional public safety agencies complete their training.

Q: Who’s your UAS role model, and why?

A: I very much admire the work of Gene Robinson, who’s a well-known pioneer in the field of UAS search and rescue. He is one of the only guys who have been flying UAS in public longer than we have. We have respectfully given him the moniker "the Godfather.”

Q: From your perspective, what are you most optimistic about right now?

A: The technology expanding in the public safety domain. Companies like DJI have created entire divisions (DJI Enterprise) where they are listening to our needs and creating solutions. I cannot wait to finally get my hands on a DJI M210 and see what new capabilities we can provide with it in the realm of public safety.

On the UP&UP with ASCEND is a series of interviews with the industry leaders you’ll meet at ASCEND Conference & Expo. Interviews are conducted by Drone360 magazine.


Click here to learn about Garret’s ASCEND presentation.

Featured image: Garret Bryl

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