Fire department in Berkeley County now using drones to fight fires, save lives

Berkeley County News

BERKELEY COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – The Whitesville Fire Department is using a new tool to help them fight fires in Berkeley County.

The department has a new drone program they say will be instrumental in helping them save lives and property.

“This is an exciting time for us,” said Colt Roy with the Whitesville Fire Department. “We have a drone program that operated under the FAA’s rules and guidelines.”

Leaders say the department spent about $6,500 outfitting three drones that can do several things to help. Roy described it as a “swiss army knife” for the department.

“It could be anything from a missing person where we’re out searching; it could be used for brushfires, wildland fires, a whole list of things.”

They used the drone for two things the first day they received it. “One of them was for a brushfire,” he said. “We were able to get in in the air to see the entire scope of the fire scene.”

He said they were able to see the size of the fire and how fast it was moving. “Checking for exposures to make sure there was nothing of a high value we needed to get to immediately and all of the access points to the fire as well. Afterward, we were able to fly through the fire line to ensure that the fire was out.”

Their main drone has a thermal imaging camera, which makes it easier to see hotspots or humans on the ground.

“It flies with two cameras. Standard 4K video camera, and an infrared camera that sees in the dark, it sees heat.”

It even has a public address system, allowing the drone to talk to people.

“We can use pre-recorded messages, or we can speak directly into it. So, if we have a situation where someone was lost, and we found them, we can let them know help is on the way.”

The drones can fly in a pattern and record video from the air that can be put together into a large real-time map of the area.

“As far as saving lives goes if somebody is missing, finding that person – especially if you have a medical condition – speed is everything.”

Roy says the drones will help them do some of what they have already done, only quicker from now on.

“To us, speed is everything. And we will continue doing everything in our power to be as efficient at our jobs as possible. That’s one of our promises to our community.”

The Whitesville Fire Department has been working on the drone program for the past six months.

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