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Colo. FD adds drone to fleet for use in search and recon

Sterling firefighters completed FAA training to become certified pilots of the fire department’s new drone


Sterling Fire Department/Facebook

By Callie Jones

STERLING, Colo. — The Sterling Police Department and Logan County Sheriff’s Office have K-9 officers and now Sterling Fire Department has an eagle. Eagle 1 is the new drone that the department recently added to its fleet of tools.

Purchased with funds from the department’s budget this year, the drone is identical to the one that the SPD has. Six weeks ago, five SFD pilots completed a remote pilot course and were certified by the FFA, so the drone can now be deployed for a number of situations.

“The drone has thermal energy capabilities, so it’s going to be a fantastic asset for us to be able on fires, both structure fires and grass fires, to look for hot spots. (We’ll also) be able to use it for search and rescue, when we have people down in the river bottom it’s been an issue in the past being able to find them but with this technology, we should be able to find them very quickly,” Fire Chief Lavon Ritter told the Sterling City Council at a meeting Tuesday.

Another use for the drone will be motor vehicle accidents. Ritter explained the fire department responds to a few car accidents every year where the cars are in the ditch off the road and there’s no one around. The drone will give them the ability to quickly scan around to see if there is someone in the grass and check for injured parties.

Additionally, the drone, which can fly three to five miles away and has a 20-minute flight time, can also be used for damage assessment in the event of a tornado or flooding. Ritter shared that the Colorado Division of Fire Protection and Patrol has a drone on their engine as well and SFD deployed it earlier this year when the Pawnee Creek flooded to find where the breech was and get an assessment of what was going, if the water was continuing to rise or if it was going down.

It will also be a valuable tool during the department’s training sessions, allowing firefighters to be able to review what took place during the training afterward and look for anything they could do better in a real-life situation.

“It’s a new piece of equipment that we’re very excited about, it’s going to be very, very useful,” Ritter said, thanking the council for allowing the fire department to obtain the drone.

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Council member Albert Delgado asked if there are any rules in place for using the drone. Ritter said that according to standard operating procedure, it can only be flown over people in the event of some sort of emergency, they have to have a reason to fly it over people, and there has to be a spotter, pilot and co-pilot at all times when it is in the air.

During his report to the council, Ritter also mentioned that this week is Fire Safety Prevention Week. SFD plans to visit area preschools next week and the week after that to promote fire safety and they also have a public safety education specialist that is working on a program for middle schools and high schools, so that SFD can continue to stay in touch with students as they get older.

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