New York Fire Departments Refuse to Name Firefighter Who Tried Knocking Drone Out of Sky With Firehose

Some firefighters are about to be in hot water. At least they should be. If the right fire department steps up and takes responsibility for spraying a man’s drone with water.

The incident took place earlier this month in Montgomery in upstate New York when John Thompson, a former firefighter, stopped at a fire at a large building. As firefighters from various local departments attempted to put out the fire, a local news crew and Thompson both got to work recording video of the towering clouds of smoke rising from the flames.

The only differences between Thompson and the news crew? Only Thompson was recording the scene using his the camera mounted to his remote-controlled quadcopter.

And only Thompson had his camera sprayed with the power hose by a firefighter on the scene.

“It was very unprofessional on their part, spraying water at a drone while the fire is still burning inside the house,” Thompson told PINAC. “It was a structure fire on a home, people lost everything. I believe every bit of that water should have been used on the fire, not on trying to shoot a drone out of the sky.”

Thompson posted the video he recorded on Facebook and with the following message (edited for spelling):

“Stopped at a structure fire in Coldenham fire district and 13 min in to shooting the video the fire company tryed to blow my drone out of the sky with the fire hose for filming the fire,” wrote Thompson on Facebook. “This is real misconduct on their part and very unprofessional. My second take off the camera did not record so it looks like they destroyed a $2,200.00 drone. Thanks guys for the nice job you’re doing for the community. I have you all on video so if I have to get it paid for look for the bill thank you and if you all agree with me please comment. The news was there filming why not me!”

He was immediately met with criticism from Facebook commenters who proved they were clueless when it came to the law regarding the right to record as you can see from a few screenshots below.

Drone NYDrone NY2Drone NY3Drone NY4Drone NY5Drone NY6


In Thompson’s video, posted below, you can clearly see a large hose being directed away from the fire and sprayed directly at his camera beginning at the 12:00 mark.

Apparently, a few firefighters thought destroying property was more important than putting out the fire on a burning building. Like the man who blasted a drone out of the sky with a shotgun last October, the firefighters responsible for destroying Thompson’s drone can be brought up on criminal charges, and Thompson will have certainly have a case against the fire department for destruction of property and potentially for infringing on his First Amendment right to record.

“I had no idea they sprayed it intentionally. If it was accidental it would be one thing, but this wasn’t accidental, it was on purpose,” said Thompson “It’s a horrible thing actually. Even my police department said I should call and complain, and I’m probably going to take them to small claims court”

The ironic thing here? Thompson’s intention was to share the video on the fire department’s Facebook page.

“I used to put pictures on the ground on fireman’s pages on Facebook,” said Thompson. “I had just gotten this drone, and it was my first structure fire, and I wanted to put it on the fireman’s page so everyone could see it, and this is what happened. I had a right to be there, like anybody else…I hope nobody else gets shot out of the sky.”

PINAC has been informed that there were several New York fire departments at the scene, including Coldenham and Montgomery, but others who are listed on this page, many whom we’ve contacted, but have either refused to talk to us or have directed us to a man named Justin Rodriguez, who apparently is the media spokesman for Orange County, having just accepted the job this year after working as a local journalist.

But Rodriguez has not returned our calls.

Story continues below...

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Rodriguez, who maintained a very active Twitter account as a sports reporter for the Times-Herald Record, switched his Twitter username to @justinrodocgovt as well as his Twitter bio to “Assistant to Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus for Communications and Media Relations, after announcing his job change on May 1, 2015.

He then spent the next few weeks tweeting out flak-related information about the county. But his last tweet was May 31 and the incident in question took place on June 4.

And since then, it has been reported on multiple news sites, including a segment on Inside Edition, but so far, the responsible firefighter has yet to be named.

UPDATE: Moments after we published this report, Rodriguez returned our call, telling us the matter is “under investigation” by the Montgomery Township Police. We have reached out to them and will update this report when he receive a response.

Felipe Hemming contributed to this report.

About Andrew Meyer

For news tips on aerial photography and drones, contact Andrew Meyer, PINAC’s staff writer covering UAV photography, the First Amendment, and more. You can also read his work on Tsu @AndrewMeyer, and at TheAndrewMeyer.com

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  • JdL

    It would be a real shame if firefighters go the way of cops and pick up a huge attitude along with out-of-control behavior.

    • FedUp

      Firefighters have been assigning military ranks to themselves and calling their employers “civilians” for quite some time now.

      I guess they’re a branch of the Armed Forces. I can’t wait for the court-martial for dereliction of duty and destruction of property in the quadcopter incident.

    • NoLeaders

      You must not know many firefighters. They’re just as arrogant and bullying as cops. Same gang mentality as well.

      • inquisitor

        I have encountered this same mentality with firefighters many times.

        • NoLeaders

          Generally speaking though firefighters are less likely to give you problems, mainly because they have more pride in what they do and don’t mind the cameras.

          • inquisitor

            Wrong. There are videos on youtube showing firefighters and EMT acting out due to filming by the public.

          • NoLeaders

            Keywords: “generally speaking”, “less likely”

          • inquisitor

            Obviously due to the difference in their duties while on the job and number of interactions with the public.
            Firefighters also are not often armed with guns, tazers and chemical weapons, nor is it there job to pursue criminals to such a degree as cops.

            But as far as it being because they have pride in what they do and don’t mind cameras.
            Unverifiable, unprovable…Bullshit.

      • FedUp

        “Anthony Bruno, a six-year veteran of the Kansas City Fire Department’s Station 17 in Missouri,
        was shot in the chest by an unidentified officer at about 2:30 a.m.
        after the two got into a violent scuffle following an alleged attack on a
        cab driver, authorities said.”

        • inquisitor

          Fraternal orders and unions do not help the sociopathic.

        • Camera them all

          One group of sociopaths meets another…

  • steveo

    I don’t really see the difference between a quad copter and a news helicopter, lawfully. The helicopter probably costs thousands to operate, where the quad copter has minimal expense. But they both are trying to accomplish the same task, gathering the news, so either the helicopter or quad copter would be protected by the Constitution.

    No one would shoot at the helicopter from the ground, at least not with serious charges. But it seems ok with people that authorities try to disable the quad copters with water, or guns.

    • inquisitor

      Some firefighters also take an oath to defend the Constitution…but maybe not this department.

    • James M Morriss

      The FAA finds no or little difference between shooting the RC aircraft and an manned aircraft. They both crash on things. They are both bad events to allow to happen without reprisal.

  • inquisitor

    @ 11:55 you can clearly see a firefighter on the ground point to and give the order for the firefighter in the house with the hose to take out the drone.
    @ 12:38 another firefighter on the ground attempts to take out the drone with his hose and two other firefighters come over to help him stabilize the hose while he is trying to blast the drone.

    No way it was an accident.

    Now, seeing how there was no legal justification not to be able to film from a drone such as privacy issues, one must ask what do these firefighters object to so much that they would irresponsibly and unprofessionally stop putting out the fire to take out a harmless drone that is filming them?

    Lie-ability. They don’t want any video evidence that could be used to prosecute or sue them for that which they may be liable.
    Some have been found to steal and loot from the places they put out fires.

  • JW

    The Internet: Reaffirming my distrust of strangers, since 1995.

  • Arishia

    What a godawful group of locals. They make oligarchy look good. Imagine rule by a pure democracy of the common man in that area, or any area for that matter.
    I shudder at the thought.

  • ed2276

    File a small claims suit against them.

  • Sheeple of the United States

    Reading the comments on his page made my IQ drop. It also further solidified the fact that no one has a clue what they are talking about, and are ok with the government spying on their every move. If you however film a burning house you are a privacy invading terrorist.

    • James M Morriss

      I’m sure as hell not.

  • Haz

    That was a cool video. Why does Government HATE VIDEO?

    • James M Morriss

      Government hates anything that actually or perceptually lessons there power. If there is video evidence then their power to control the narrative is diminished. Just remember “government” is Oz the power men behind behind the curtain, without which nothing will get done. “I’m just doing my job” and “I’m following orders” will soon be in fashion again. I hope with the same results.

      • Spaghetti Rules

        I disagree. I believe the person controlling the UAV intentionally got close with his UAV to force an issue with the fire department.

        • James M Morriss

          Close is a relative term. The aircraft was at the end of the water stream’s reach. That puts the aircraft about 75′ to 100′ straight up, a bit farther on an angle. So to say it was “close” is just not so. You could not say how close it was until the water was shot at it.
          Besides your comment has nothing to do with my point. Whether the guy was or wasn’t trying to provoke a response has no bearing on a person’s in government employ grasp on power and their unwillingness to release it.

          • Spaghetti Rules

            Thanks for opinion James, Does he have liability insurance to fly a UAV over a house that was being attended during a fire emergency? No? Oh well, that is a big badda-bitch for the UAV operator, isn’t it? I could see why he wanted to know who the firefighter was, because he claims the firefighter is responsible for his volunteered choice to fly a UAV near firefighters attending an emergency. Are privately owned UAV’S allowed to scan an emergency situation conducted by firefighters?

          • Pericles8th

            “Are privately owned UAV’S allowed to scan an emergency situation conducted by firefighters?” Yes they are! Until the FAA rules differently, or unless the 1st Amendment gets repealed video taping any public official from public property, (i.e. the air) is allowed.

          • Spaghetti Rules

            Lol, NO they are not.

            It was not a public official on public property,

            It was a public official on “private property.” So no, he does NOT have a right to video record or scan another person’s house.

          • Pericles8th

            Yes! As long as the camera isn’t on the private property. If you can see it from a publicly accessible area it can be filmed. That is why google maps and street view are legal because it was viewable from a public area.

  • Jim Dean

    I think what bothers me the most is this. If you watch the video, you’ll see the firefighter on the hose fire one quick blast, then he stops. Two other firefighters come to back him up so he can open the hose full force. At least one of those firefighters had a different color helmet on, which either means another department or a ranking officer. Not one of the three stopped and and asked why in the world they were about to do something this bone headed.

  • Boko Hos

    A couple of firefighters that need a 22 in the kneecaps.

  • Boko Hos

    Clearly the firefighters are only distracted because they’re too busy playing games.

    • Rail Car Fan

      That… and drinking beer!

      Rail Car Fan

  • Fedup

    If the water shooter was among a group of firefighters, it’d be difficult to say who it was. But in this case, the guy is so exposed on the second floor, clearly every one of his fellow firefighters know exactly who that was. Whether they rat him out or not depends on how solid their thin-red-line is.

  • Fedup

    BTW, that’s a Phantom 2+, the same model I have. It was $1300 and change. If he really paid $2200, he got rooked.

    • James M Morriss

      “accessories” That’s where they get ya. and “ADP” of course. And shipping and handling…..

      • Fedup

        Dunno about that. There really aren’t any accessories that get attached to the 2+… I mean, sure you can buy extra batteries, cases, blades, etc, but that stuff is on the ground next to the pilot. The only thing possibly damaged by the water was the stuff in the air. The P2+ isn’t worth more than $1300 – even less now that the P3 is out.

        For the record, I’m not defending the actions of the firefighters… they should burn for that (pun intended). But I think there is a certain amount of embellishment that’s occurred with this guy’s damage claim. And anyone with a Phantom knows it.

  • Lookin down from on high

    Doesn’t matter which department did it. Find out who the INCIDENT COMMANDER was and what department he belonged to. that department is legally responsible for everything that happens at that fire call. ALL other departments on scene by federal law report to the incident commander and are under his control. If they acted outside his orders, that’s bad Juju in a fire call. Incident command 101. It all falls on the IC (Incident commander) shoulders. catch the head, the tail will follow.

  • Ordinary Citizen

    That’s TWO different firefighters directing their hoses at the quadcopter. First shot was from the second floor balcony, second shot was from ground level in the parking area of the driveway.

    That’s whatcha call a conspiracy, folks. Either someone ordered the two brave firemen to aim their hoses skywards, or they reached independent decisions at virtually the same moment to do the same thing. Highly unlikely.

    • Fire Corrupt Police Officers

      Interfering with the public’s right to record matters of public importance is not the job of any firefighter. These two, and any others involved in the conduct, need to be fired, if not criminally charged.

      Fire hoses are not toys, nor is the water they spray.

      Directing this high-pressure anywhere but at the structure on fire or its immediate vicinity is gross negligence.

  • Spaghetti Rules

    LMAO! Oh well.

    • Spaghetti Cat

      If you are going to cop apologize, may as well apologize for other thugs in government uniform.

  • seansd

    If this keeps happening, sooner or later they’ll have someone die that could have been saved if they had just been spotted by the drone before a firefighter destroyed it

  • Guest

    TIL: Firefighters are just as big of douchebags as cops are.

  • Anticamera

    They tried again at 12:43 as well. The attack was a conspiracy as you could tell from the smiles on the chief’s face and the fact that 3 fire fighters on the ground were looking right up at the drone with the attack happened. It should also be a simple matter to follow the hose because ultimately that is the company responsible for the use or misuse of it.

    ‘As for the Airport matter the drone was up no higher than a kite would be and flying kites are not prohibited even less than 1 mile from an airport.

    “A few days ago, X and X expressed extreme concern about my
    flying a large kite 9/10ths of a mile directly out from the end of an
    airport runway…This morning, I called and spoke with the manager of the control tower
    at Napa airport. I requested permission to fly the kite at an altitude
    of 125 ft. He said that this would be no problem, except in very rare
    circumstances. When I asked him if my estimate of the altitude of the
    aircraft flying around the site to be 500 ft. was reasonable, he said
    that the aircraft are closer to 800 ft. that far from the end of the
    runway.” And that was 9/10th of a mile, at 4+ miles the aircraft would be above 2,000 feet or higher. In order for the aircraft to be endangered by the drone they would have to be flying recklessly and illegally low anyway.

  • Wesley Jamie Smith

    FYI, to all of you all that think that Mr. Thompson was within his rights to film, you need to do a little research on Air Rights. According to the US Supreme Court, private landowners retain their right to exclusive use of the airspace for the reasonable enjoyment of their property up to 500 feet above their lands. So unless he had permission from the landowner to fly his quad-copter at an altitude well below 500 feet above the property, he was committing a crime.

    • JWE

      If in fact the property owner objected to it, then it is up to them to file a complaint with the proper authorities. It is not up to the fire fighters to take it upon themselves to shoot it down.

      • Wesley Jamie Smith

        So basically what you are saying is that it is okay to violate someone’s privacy and just hope they don’t object to it. And even if they do, what is the chance of knowing who is operating the drone when they are as far away as he was.

        • JWE

          So basically what you are saying that it is alright for the firefighters to violate this man’s 1st and 4th Amendment rights, and illegally damage/destroy his property.

          Once it became a News Advent and the Firefighters stepped on the property, any rights to privacy the property owner might had most likely went out the window. However that is a matter for the courts to decide, not by you, me, and certainly not the firefighters.

          Again there are LEGAL remedies for the property owner to pursue. THIS WAS NOT ONE OF THEM.

          As for safety concerns, if the drone operator had lost control, and it crashed into someone and cause injury; The operator would have been libel for it. However if the stream of water had knocked it out of the are, or the electronics shorted out causing it to crash; Then the Fire Department would have been LEGALLY LIBEL.

          • Wesley Jamie Smith

            Perhaps you should educate yourself on the amendments and what the law is…

            According to the US Supreme Court, private landowners retain their right to exclusive use of the airspace for the reasonable enjoyment of their property up to 500 feet above their lands.

            The First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

            The Fourth Amendment: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

            So first of all, the landowner has exclusive right to the airspace above his property, that means, without permission from the landowner, he was committing a crime.

            Nowhere in the First Amendment does it give the press the right to trespass on private property (or airspace in this case). Therefore, once again, he was committing a crime.

            You want to throw the Fourth Amendment into this, then you need to really understand what that means. He was violating the homeowners right to unreasonable searches by using that camera illegally in the homeowner’s personal airspace and videotaping his property.

            Also, you may want to check out the ACLU’s website concerning your rights as a photographer:

            – When in public spaces where you are lawfully present you have the right to photograph anything that is in plain view.

            – Note that the right to photograph does not give you a right to break any other laws.

            Notice where it says “plain view” and the last one about breaking laws. That information was taken from here:


            Also, while we are at it, let’s take a look at the FAA guidelines for model aircraft.



            If you read through those, there were several things that he did illegally. First and foremost, he operated out of the line of sight. He flew within 5 miles of an airport and I doubt very seriously that he notified them prior to his flight. He was operating too close to people on the ground, which even after they sprayed his quad-copter the first time, he went back again. He was unable to see his aircraft and operating over an emergency scene, which was careless and hazardous to the people on the ground.

            Now, let me tell you how this plays out. As these things become more and more popular and affordable, people are going to start using them more often for purposes other than what they were intended. This includes incidents such as this and perverts using them to invade people’s privacy in their home. Once it starts becoming a problem, the government is going to step in and start passing laws regarding the use and possibly the ownership of these toys.

          • JWE

            Again the Firefighters are not law enforcement, There are legal redress for the property owner, if he objected to this. Again: The firefighters trying to knock it down, is not one of them. What the Firefighters did was not only illegal, but highly dangerous as well.

          • Wesley Jamie Smith

            You are right, they are not law enforcement. They are firefighters trying to do a job and he was interfering with them. He was doing something ILLEGAL and HAZARDOUS, plain and simple. Why are you defending one person who was doing something illegal, but ready to lead a lynch mob against the fire department? Do you realize how ignorant that is? Did you even read any of that information I posted? He was breaking so many laws and regulations but you think that it is okay. But the fire department does something to protect themselves from a hazard, which was flying way too close to them, and you think they should be prosecuted.

          • JWE

            I am not defending the man with the drone, I am merely stating the fact that there are legal redress if he was violating the law.

            Far from protecting themselves from a hazard, the firefighters greatly increased any possible danger the drone may have posed to themselves and others.

            Again If they had succeeded in knocking it down, it would have crashed somewhere; Maybe on themselves, or on a bystander. The same if the water shorted out the electronics, causing the operator to lose control of it.

            If that had happened, it would be the firefighters who would have been legally libel, for any injuries, and damages: Not the drone operator.

          • JWE

            By the way, a drone equipped with an inferred camera would be a great asset for fire fighters. They can be use to locate trapped persons in a building, as well as locate major hot spots. Also after the fire is put out, it can be use to locate potential smoldering hot spot, that could later rekindle the fire.

          • Wesley Jamie Smith

            A drone equipped with a thermal imaging camera would be a great asset, we have a thermal imaging camera on our first out engine. However, this was not the case with this drone, and even if it did have such a camera, the operator was no where near the fire scene for it to be utilized by command.

    • James M Morriss

      Unless he posted it your free to enter. That’s why you see all those “no trespassing” every 50′ along the road. And it is still a federal crime to shoot anything even water at an aircraft. They take a very dim view of people molesting aircraft. Try pointing a laser at one and see what happens.

      • Wesley Jamie Smith

        Please cite something that states that it has to be posted in regards to the airspace. Also, how would the operator even know? He was no where near the scene. And you remember that when someone operates a drone outside your window and records your family in the privacy of their home. This guy is giving responsible drone operators a bad name, according to a majority of responses on other sites that this video was shared.

        • Pericles8th

          Even if it was illegal for him to be flying the drone in that location the firefighters are not law enforcement! Two wrongs don’t make a right.

        • I Wave My Flag

          Please cite something that states anything in support of the drivel you have written, Wesley Jamie Smith.

          • Wesley Jamie Smith

            Before you post another response that makes you look either ignorant or illiterate, try this little trick….SCROLL UP to my original post. And if you are unable to use google to search Air Rights, let me know and I will do it for you.

  • Steven Grim

    Yep, firefighters are pissy because they might get caught pocketing anything valuable that survived the fire.

  • Fire Corrupt Govt Workers

    A deliberate attempt by a government actor to suppress speech they do not like and misuse of government property and resources in the act (an illegal act taken under color of law).

    The name of the offender is a public record. Any local government agency that is suppressing this information, by withholding the record, needs to be fined heavily (and regularly) until they comply.

    The corrupt persons need to be fired.

  • Gnuk

    By hiding the identity of the fireman, each one is now liable under the letter of the law ..The owner can now legally go after each and every one to recoup his losses.