Drones to help Okla. firefighters during search and rescue

A group from Oklahoma State University demonstrated the use of a drone for a rescue simulation

Tulsa World

TULSA, Okla. — When Tulsa firefighters respond to emergency calls in the near future, crews could be accompanied by unmanned drones.

Members of the Tulsa Fire Department gathered Wednesday to watch a demonstration of how the unmanned aircraft can work in concert with first responders on the ground to save lives.

"We want this to be another just another tool firefighters can use," said Oklahoma State University clinical professor J.A. Kidd, whose students help setup and operate a drone for the rescue simulation.

The drone was outfitted with a camera and software that enabled several first responders at the site and at a command post to gain access to real-time information related to the emergency, Kidd said.

"It allows them to see what’s happening, get somewhere and get the information so the rescue can begin," he said.

Tulsa Fire Capt. Stan May said the drone technology will reduce the amount of area where crews need to cover by foot or vehicle to locate victims.

"These (drones) can cover large areas where our men don’t have to search," May said. "It will save us hours."

GPS technology can also enable firefighters pinpoint the exact location of structures and view areas in their current state after fires or even natural disasters.

Custom infrared technology can be installed on drones to find victims who might be trapped in buildings, residential homes or underneath rubble where crews otherwise would not have the ability to see, May said.

Several firefighters who were in Moore following the tornado that devastated the city in May said drone capability would have been an ideal apparatus to aid in rescue missions.

"Search and rescue is like triage in the medical world," Tulsa Fire Department rescue coordinator R.B. Ellis said. "We have to be able to see where the victims are, where to prioritize and send resources to the affected areas."

While firefighters are currently unable to use drones, May said he anticipates the department requesting an aircraft as soon as they are made available.

"We would like to have able one by the end of the year," he said. "We will use this more than the military. It is something we would use every day."

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