You have a varied career from policing, through firefighting before moving into aviation. What attracted you to the aviation industry and its utility for special missions?
I’ve always been fascinated and inspired by aviation, even at an early age. Throughout my career, I’ve had regular interactions with the aviation industry, from helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS), search and rescue, aerial law enforcement, and firefighting. Aviation, specifically helicopters, plays a significant role in the success of saving lives and property.
What attracted me to the aviation industry, post-first responder roles, was the unique capabilities that aircraft bring to the mission. As a first responder, once an aircraft is overhead, no matter the mission type, there is a sense of knowing the eye in the sky has your back and is working to bring the incident to a successful conclusion.
As a member of the Helicopter Association International (HAI) Aerial Firefighting and Natural Resources Working Group, what is the group working on at the moment that will improve and modify policy and standards for aerial firefighting?
Among many topics the working group is focused on, one is ensuring the future of aerial firefighting in the helicopter space is understood and appreciated by all levels of our government.
Funding is always an issue with contracting and grant availability. Our role with the working group is to promote to legislators, senators, and elected officials the critical importance of aerial firefighting, and the support that is needed each year to ensure resources are available and deployed when needed.
Another important effort the group is focused on is evaluating how next-generation technologies are being identified and used in the aerial fire industry.
What was the most challenging fire that you attended? Has the industry changed since and would the fire have been approached differently today?
Every fire has its own unique challenges and circumstances, and I’ve served in a great number of roles, from a basic line firefighter all the way to incident commander. From my experience, no two fires are the same. But with each one there is a lesson to learn, and collectively those lessons enhance your knowledge and execution at every incident moving forward.
No two fires are the same but with each one there is a lesson to learn
Has the industry changed? Absolutely. Many fires are approached differently now than they were a generation ago. Most of the USA, and much of the world, are moving out of a traditional ‘fire season’ and are now experiencing substantial fires year-round. The industry is now committing more thought into tactical and operational decisions, only sending firefighters into situations where the life-safety risk is acceptable.
More technologies and institutional knowledge are being developed and implemented, and the availability of aircraft has increased worldwide. These days we are used to seeing extremely capable aircraft, such as the FireHawks, CH-47s, Aircranes, and large and very large airtankers above fires. We didn’t always have that luxury 20 or 30 years ago.
You oversaw the introduction of the first H145 in the US utility sector, citing its safety and reliability. Are innovation and technological advances an aspect of the industry that you actively pursue?
All of us in the aviation industry should be pursuing innovative and technological advances. The weakest link in aviation is typically the operator. If we can introduce technology that enhances safety and increases mission success and situational awareness, without replacing the operator, why wouldn’t we? Cost is always a consideration, and often a barrier but, if it’s in your agency’s scope, the safety, efficiency and effectiveness that new technologies can bring – whether it’s aircraft, sensors or avionics – mean the best and safest solution to our customers and citizens.
We are currently seeing more ferocious and longer fire seasons across the globe. How do you see the aerial firefighting sector adapt and keep up with the requirements needed?
The aerial firefighting market has made remarkable adjustments in the past few years. The USA has increased availability with all types of fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft. Europe has increased the quantity of aircraft and is moving toward a unified aerial response model. Australia and the Asia-Pacific region have increased the number and type of aircraft as well. We are also seeing the addition of fire aircraft in South America. This is a dynamic requirement, and as long as funding is available and needs are fully understood by governing bodies, the assets will continue to increase. There is also a dramatic need for intelligent systems to be included with these aircraft. Automated intelligence that can enhance situational awareness – so we fight more intelligently, effectively and safely – is incredibly important. AI-enabled software and hardware are the next step in realizing this increase in operational tempo.
As long as funding is available and needs are fully understood by governing bodies, the assets will continue to increase
You are currently Business Development Executive – Fire & Emergency Services with Overwatch Imaging. How does your background help with the special missions that they serve?
There is no better way to develop business than having a strong background in what the needs of the industry are. From law enforcement to firefighting, I’ve lived the life and have had a stake in the game. The past, present and future needs of the industries we serve are what drive the development of new solutions. Myself, along with the incredibly talented and dedicated team at Overwatch Imaging, are diligently moving the needle forward. We are developing and refining automated solutions for fire, law enforcement, search and rescue (maritime and terrestrial), border protection, critical infrastructure inspections, flood and disaster mapping, and many other critical mission sets.
Overwatch leverages imaging technology and software solutions to overcome labor-intensive and physically demanding manual airborne searching methods. In what ways does Overwatch support aerial firefighting missions?
There are many ways Overwatch Imaging is serving the needs of aerial firefighting missions. Our multispectral smart sensors and AI-enabled software solutions are onboard dozens of aircraft in the USA, Europe and Australia, and more are coming online regularly. Automated fire detection and perimeter mapping remain our most requested fire-specific software modules. With powerful edge processing, our systems turn collected imagery into actionable intelligence in a matter of minutes rather than hours. This time-critical intelligence is processed on the edge and can be transferred to incident commanders in near real-time, enabling a heightened situational awareness and providing a conduit for reliable, time-sensitive information.
We are rapidly developing mission-specific, AI-enabled software capabilities that can be paired with existing, third-party FMV gimbals and imaging payloads
Are there any changes ahead for you or Overwatch Imaging?
One thing the tech industry can always count on is change. Overwatch Imaging is an incredibly innovative company that is working on a wide variety of cutting-edge solutions for automating geospatial airborne intelligence collection, processing, and analysis.
Along with growing our current catalog of successful multispectral smart sensor payloads and accompanying software products, we are rapidly developing mission-specific, AI-enabled software capabilities that can be paired with existing, third-party full motion video (FMV) gimbals and imaging payloads to automate human-intensive sensor operation and data analysis tasks. The ability for agencies to augment their existing systems with powerful automation software and edge processing capabilities, that will expand and improve over time, is going to be an absolute game-changer across the aviation industry.