Paramedics in Canada Using Drones Approved for Flying BVLOS - 05/02/2018


Canadian paramedics are drones to fly beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) to obtain an understanding of a situation before they go approach in hard to reach or potentially dangerous areas.

Although they have been using this technology for a few years, it was only within the last year that chief paramedic Michael Nolan worked towards getting approval to fly the drones beyond the pilot’s field of vision – an expanded capability that he said, and has since confirmed, would open the door to a much wider range of uses. After a six-day demonstration before federal officials last spring, the service – along with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and British Columbia-based drone supplier InDro Robotics – obtained permission to fly UAVs within a four-nautical-mile search area.

“The program began with off-the-shelf technology that allowed us to test some of the concepts in our own backyard,” said Michael Nolan, adding that the service drew on the insights of a county paramedic who had experience flying UAVs for the Canadian military. “At the time, the regulations and use of drones were very limited to hobbyists, but we recognised there was greater opportunity to enhance both the technology and the use of drones in the emergency-services context.”

In the months since obtaining the expanded federal permission, Eastern Ontario Renfrew County paramedics have used their UAVs to scan rugged crash sites, locate people lost in the woods, and determine whether snowmobilers plummeted through ice or made it safely to shore. The need has not yet arisen, but the service is also capable of deploying a drone to deliver an automatic external defibrillator (AED) to someone in cardiac arrest. A similar effort is being carried out in Nevada by drone manufacturer Flirtey in partnership with ambulance company REMSA.

The Renfrew paramedics can also equip a drone with a personal flotation device and lower it to someone struggling in a body of water, similar to the rescue just carried out by an Australian UAV, or use it to throw a rope out to a person stuck on a treacherous stretch of ice to allow paramedics to then pull the person ashore.

Renfrew is a natural place to deploy this sort of innovation to assist with emergency response efforts. Spanning an area of more than 7,500 square km, it is the largest county in Ontario and it has more than 900 lakes and four river systems. This beautiful but challenging landscape can slow down conventional rescue efforts.

Last updated: 04/09/2020