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Firefighters take to the air

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Cameras from the Waupaca Area Fire District's new drone give the incident commander at the scene of a fire an aerial view and thermal image. Photo courtesy of Waupaca Area Fire District

Drone donated to the Waupaca Area Fire District

The Waupaca Area Fire District recently received an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

Commonly known as a drone, the device is an aircraft without a human pilot on board.

This drone will be the fire department’s first unmanned aircraft and is also the first drone in use by Waupaca County fire departments.

The drone was a joint project with two local Waupaca businesses.

Jeff Robinson, with August Aerial Imagery, had a vision to equip local response agencies in Waupaca County with drones to assist with emergencies.

Getting aerial views of emergency scenes, using thermal imaging to detect hot spots and find missing people at night are some of the ways Robinson says fire departments can use drones.

Since 2015, Robinson has offered aerial services.

He is also a commercial airline pilot and a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Certified Part 107 unmanned aerial pilot.

Robinson discussed outfitting first response agencies with UAV/drones to Ben Lyons and Mike Drexler, owners of RE/MAX Lyons Real Estate. Two years later, the three partners agreed to purchase and donate a drone to the Waupaca Area Fire District.

“We are grateful to Jeff Robinson, Ben Lyons and Mike Drexler for this generous donation,” said WAFD Fire Chief Jerry Deuman. “The drone will allow us to better respond to search and rescue operations, natural disasters, structural fires and more. The availability of drone technology can often mean the difference between life and death, measured in seconds and minutes in emergency situations. Our pilots try to give the incident commander a view of the building that the incident commander cannot see – the rear of the building or the roof level.”

Assessing firefighter sfety

Deuman said the drone can assess fire travel, structural issues like cracks in a building or danger of collapse and roof operations to determine if anything is unsafe and needs corrective action.

“We all are concerned with firefighter safety and getting a better view of an incident. Drones are great tools to use to your best advantage,” Deuman said.

The drone is the new DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual. which, with all the equipment, is valued at about $3,000, according to Lyons.

Lyons said this drone can fly up to 40 mph and is capable of being flown at night.

The drone is also equipped with two cameras to conduct searches when responding to a call. The thermal camera allows the pilots and incident commanders to locate fires or body heat.

It will help reduce the time spent looking for people in need of help.

“We feel so lucky to be able to fund this drone for the Waupaca Area Fire District,” Drexler said. “I want our first responders to have every advantage when they come on scene to help. They deserve to return home safely to their own families as they are protecting us.”


Lt. Steve Fenske, Waupaca’s training officer, said the next steps are proper implementation, policy and procedures and training the staff.

“We currently have five firefighters with some experience in piloting drones. We will be getting them additional training, and also get them FAA Part 107 certification,” Fenske said.

Robinson will train the fire department’s drone pilots and visual observers.

“Any time the drone will be deployed, it is piloted by two people, one who controls the flight and another who will have constant visual contact with the drone, as well as communications with the on-scene incident commander,” Fenske said.

Deuman said the drone is no different than other types of firefighting equipment the department has.

“Fire departments can use drones for recon of wildfires and motor vehicle accident scenes, hazmat incidents, hot spot identification at structure fires and even in rescue scenarios,” he said. “We must make sure we are operating the UAV/drone safely and within FAA rules.”

For public use, which includes governmental agencies, the first step is getting a Declaration Letter, and then the FAA gives the fire department online access for a Certificate of Authenticity (COA) application.

The COA application defines the area of operation, what the drone is being used for, when it is being used, how pilots are trained and preflight procedures that must be done.

Then a COA is issued that gives parameters on how high the drones can be flown and where.

Future plans for Robinson, Lyons and Drexler are to continue to outfit other first responder agencies in the area with drones.

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