LA Fire Department could soon seek federal permission to fly drones

The Los Angeles Fire Department could soon seek federal permission to fly drones, a tool that officials say could help them track down missing hikers, gauge the risks in burning buildings and search confined spaces.

A Los Angeles City Council committee voted Tuesday to allow the department to start seeking Federal Aviation Administration authorization to use “unmanned aerial systems,” despite objections from groups concerned about privacy rights. That decision now heads to the entire council for approval.

“I think there’s a tremendous opportunity to save lives,” said Councilman Mitch Englander, who has championed the idea.

Fire officials say no drones will be launched, however, until the Board of Fire Commissioners and the City Council approve a policy outlining how they can be used. The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California has already raised concerns about draft guidelines, saying they do not go far enough to address “serious privacy concerns.”