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Pa. dive-rescue unit adds more drones to its fleet

Friendship Fire Company Diving-Rescue Unit recently completed search and rescue training with two new drones


Friendship Fire Company Diving Rescue Unit/Facebook

The Mercury

PHOENIXVILLE, Pa. — Friendship Fire Company Diving-Rescue Unit, Chester County, PA Station 77, based in Phoenixville, received and will be placing into service a weather-resistant DJI Matrice 30t drone with thermal capabilities and a waterproof SwellPro Splash Drone 4 with lifting capabilities.

DJI’s M30t provides rapid deployment and is specifically designed for search and rescue operations.

With an incredible list of SAR-ready features including a thermal imaging camera to see heat signatures night and day, three optical cameras with up to 200x zoom, a 7,000 lumens CZI GL60 spotlight, laser rangefinder, 2 operators (one pilot, one camera), and the ability to pinpoint GPS locations & relay them to ground teams, the M30t is ready for search & rescue, overwatch, and rapid mapping operations.

SwellPro’s Splash Drone 4 offers a unique combination of capabilities.

Pairing a payload deployment and lifting ability with being completely waterproof allows operators to fly a personal flotation device or radios to stranded victims, assist in setting up a cross-water static line, and provide overwatch with the 1080p low light camera & spotlight. This drone also has the ability to land and take off from water.

The acquisition of these drones was made possible by generous donations and assistance from and purchased through Influential Drones located in Marlton, N.J.

These new drones bring the total UAS Fleet for Friendship Diving-Rescue Unit to seven. The team’s other UAVs include the SwellPro Splash Drone 3 and 3+, DJI Phantom 4 Pro, Mavic Pro, and an Autel EVO II Dual (thermal).

“The UAV project was conceived and started around January of 2019 after an unfortunate event that could not be prevented despite the numerous specialized fire and water rescue units in Chester, Montgomery, and Berks counties,” said Captain Carcheri Gingrasso. “Its growth is primarily funded through grants and donations. Our growing team of 7 drones (2 donated, 5 purchased, including three through grants) and 14 pilots are able to conduct search and rescue operations on land and water, provide disaster response assistance, assist with resource deployment on large fires and hazmat operations.”

“Our team’s unique capabilities were utilized on another complex rescue requiring eight different rescue companies and over three hours of work during Hurricane Ida,” Gingrasso continued. “The conditions prevented rescue boat deployment to evacuate the rescue swimmer and victim from a stranded car on a flooded road. We were forced to lower equipment, including a small boat, and personnel several hundred feet down a steep embankment to effect the rescue. The boat was ferried to the car and back with the victim and rescue swimmer. The hypothermic victim, rescue personnel, and equipment were then raised up the embankment.”

A drone from Friendship was deployed during this incident and provided lighting and overwatch.

“Saying stuff is one thing, seeing it is something else. We got lucky that they and the Phoenixville Fire Department were available. This was a critical element in managing the scene and assisted the Incident Commander in having a better understanding of real-time conditions,” said Eamon Brazunas, Berwyn Fire Company chief at the time, and now chief of Fire & Emergency Services for Phoenixville Fire Department.

Friendship Fire Company Diving-Rescue Unit was founded in 1952 as part of Friendship Fire Company No. 2 to serve the community and surrounding areas by providing water rescue and underwater recovery after 2 drownings occurred at a local dam. It has grown through the years and now specializes in search, water rescue, underwater rescue and recovery, ice rescue, and evidence recovery.

Consisting of an all-volunteer team of over 30 adults and young people supporting the surrounding communities and any law enforcement, fire department, or public entity that requests their unique skills. It is the only underwater unit for Chester County and regularly assists other units in Montgomery and Berks counties.

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