New drone gives firefighters ability to help people during search and rescue operations

Published: Nov. 2, 2021 at 5:06 PM CDT|Updated: Nov. 2, 2021 at 5:52 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Green Bay Metro firefighters can now see eagle eye views of fire scenes or possibly even locate missing people with the help of some new technology the department purchased this summer.

Twelve firefighters now make up the department’s new Drone Team, FAA certified to operate two new drones, a DJI Mavic Air 2 and a DJI Matrice 300 RTK.

“This is one of the few drones of this size in the state of Wisconsin. I want to say it’s one of a handful of this caliber,” says Nick Craig, one of the Green Bay Metro Fire Department’s drone pilots, referring to the Matrice.

The aircraft differ in size and capabilities, but both are proving useful already.

The Mavic Air 2 can maneuver tight spaces and provide some pretty good views from its attached camera, but it’s small, comparable to the size of some birds.

It’s a similar drone to the kind many other police and fire agencies in the area currently use.

The second drone, the Matrice, is the one they’re most eager to use.

A big reason is its sheer size, comparable to a labrador or similar-sized dog.

The drone weighs only about 13 pounds but stands out among the rest simply for what it can do.

“Right now, we have the drop device with five claws. We have the thermal imaging camera with the other camera all in one unit, and we have, I think it’s a 10,000 lumen spotlight that we can use for search and rescue at night,” explains Craig. “They say you can read a newspaper, standing underneath it, when the drone is 400 feet up.”

Firefighters shared videos from both a fire and some training drills to show us how useful it’s expected to be.

One from a nighttime exercise shows how clearly the thermal imaging camera can find and track people, or even a deer, that the naked eye couldn’t spot.

Craig says firefighters have already used it during a search for a person lost in the woods and to look for people stranded in the Bay of Green Bay.

With the possibility of operating the drone from their boat during a water search or rescue, firefighters think the attachable claw device could be a difference maker.

“There is potential for us to drop items, such as a life preserver or life ring to someone that’s out in the water,” says Craig.

It also provides more safety for firefighters, giving them a clear view of hot spots or other dangerous situations.

“If we don’t have people on a roof, we take a look at that from the ground from a safe position, determine if it’s potentially safe or not and then it gives the incident commander a good view of what’s going on at that scene,” explains Craig.

The department has also offered to take the drone to incidents outside the Green Bay area to assist other agencies if needed.

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