The Shiloh Volunteer Fire Department in Stoneville is the first department in Rockingham County to purchase a drone for emergency services, and it has already used it to assist the Madison Fire Department with a fire case.
“They had a structure fire and were not sure if it was arson, so we flew the drone over the house, took pictures and helped them see the fire pattern,” said Robert Stanley, the fire chief for the Shiloh Fire Department.
The department also helped with the investigation of Thursday’s explosion at the KFC Van Buren Road in Eden.
Stanley said they plan to use the drone not only to assist in the Rockingham County community but surrounding ones, as well.
The DroneSense drone, approximately 3 feet by 3 feet, has infrared, thermal and high resolution cameras. The drone cost $21,000, but Stanley said no taxpayer money was used to purchase it. The drone was purchased in November 2018 with a Dalton McMichael grant.
“One of the main reasons we bought it was the Dan River (and other local rivers) — to help Madison and Eden rescue departments handle land and water rescues,” Stanley said. “We wanted to assist them in looking for missing persons up and down the river and make their and our jobs easier.”
Stanley said the drone can pick up body temperatures, and the high-resolution camera is so precise that it can see what kind of ring is on someone’s finger.
“Imagine the ground this drone can cover,” Stanley said. “Manpower in emergency services is dwindling, as people don’t want to volunteer anymore, and ground searches take a large number of people.”
Stanley expects the drone to be a valuable asset in assisting with searches, as well as a multitude of other services.
“It can be used over a fire to see hot spots and possibly save civilian and firefighter lives,” he said.
William Lingle, fire marshal for Rockingham County, agrees that there are many possibilities for the drone’s use.
“In addition to using it for land services, like helping search for someone lost in an area inaccessible to a helicopter, it also can be used in fire investigations,” he said. “During adverse weather, we could deploy the drone and keep lives out of jeopardy.”
Stanley said one person in the department has a drone license, two more have taken classes to complete the process for gaining their license, and everyone in the department has been trained.
“We currently operate under that one person who has a license,” Stanley said. “We have to follow strict guidelines, especially since Shiloh Airport is in our district.”
His department has done test runs over the Dan River to see how far the drone can go, and he said so far they have had no mishaps flying it.
“We haven’t wrecked it yet, knock on wood,” he said with a laugh. “It’s extremely fun to operate.”
Stanley said that a couple of other emergency services departments in the county are looking to purchase a drone.
“Drones have evolved so much the last few years, and there’s so much you can do with them,” he said. “Looking ahead, you’re going to see more drones in emergency services.”