California politicians want emergency services to knock interfering drones out of the sky without fear of repercussion – after a gang of flying gizmos got in the way of firefighters tackling a terrifying blaze.
Last Friday, a forest fire roared across Interstate 15 near Cajon Pass in southern California, forcing motorists to abandon their vehicles to the flames. Firefighters complained private drones hovering above were hampering efforts to put out the blaze and in the way of aircraft sent out to douse the fire.
"Drone operators are risking lives when they fly over an emergency situation. Just because you have access to an expensive toy that can fly in a dangerous area doesn't mean you should do it," said assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Glendale), who coauthored proposed legislation allowing emergency services to knacker drones as necessary, on Tuesday.
"The legislature needs to act swiftly to make sure we send a signal that our society won't put up with this nonsense after seeing drone operators once again interrupt firefighting efforts in the Cajon Pass."
Gatto and cosponsor Senator Ted Gaines (R-El Dorado) will introduce legislation to indemnify emergency services from lawsuits filed by angry drone owners for damage to the flying hardware in the course of 911 callouts.
The final language of the bill won't be sorted until at least the middle of next month, Senator Gaines' office told The Register, but is thought to allow emergency services broad leeway to take down drones in the event of a rescue situation.
Possibilities include jamming drone control frequencies, shooting them down, or just letting firefighting aircraft drop water on a site like Cajon without fear of getting sued. With the popularity of drones increasing steadily and forest fire season coming to California, the politicians feel that legislation is needed.
"Private drones don't belong around these emergencies. That is the first message I want to get out," said Senator Gaines in a statement.
"But if one gets damaged or destroyed because it's in the way, then that can't lead to financial penalty for the people trying to save lives and property. It's unfortunate, but that's all it is. People can replace drones, but we can't replace a life. When our rescuers are risking their own lives to protect us, I want them thinking about safety, not liability." ®