NZ Fire Service plans drone fleet

A Zipline drone (Supplied)
A Zipline drone (Supplied)

The New Zealand Fire Service wants to lead the world in the use of drones in emergency situations

They'd be picking up on the work of a US company that's already delivering life-saving blood to remote parts of Rwanda.

US drone company Zipline has teamed up with the Rwandan government to deploy their blood delivery drones throughout the country in a fraction of the time it takes by land.

"What we've built here is the real deal and will be taking over all last-mile blood delivery for the country of Rwanda before the end of the year," says Zipline cofounder Ryan Oksenhorn.

He says many women are dying needlessly in Rwanda from blood loss in childbirth.

Zipline is setting up bases to cover the small country entirely, so blood can be delivered to doctors who order the blood type needed by text message.

"What this looks like is hundreds of deliveries per day ranging up to 70 kilometres away and saving many many lives that aren't currently being saved," Mr Oksenhorn says.

And it's not just Rwandan lives that can be saved by drones.

The New Zealand Fire Service is trialling drones in a range of different applications from searching for survivors in rescue operations, to finding fire hotspots with thermal cameras.

"The next five years I think you'll see huge growth where they become an integral part of emergency service response," says New Zealand Fire Service's Glen Varcoe.

Mr Varcoe is heading the drone project and says Zipline could play an important role here.

"Because of the terrain in New Zealand we might be able to drop some care packages or some communication equipment out to a stranded hunter or something like that," he says.

He says the fire service wants to be the drone provider for all New Zealand emergency services and become a global leader in using the technology to save lives in ways we can't yet imagine.

"I think we're only scratching the surface at the moment in terms of what these drones could deliver," he says.

For now that's blood in Rwanda, but Mr Varcoe says drones will soon be delivering life-saving services in New Zealand too.