NORWICH — A Norwich volunteer fire department will get a little eye-in-the sky assistance beginning Monday thanks to the donation of an aerial drone that officials said will aid in local fire suppression operations across the city.
Representatives of the National Public Safety Drone Donation Program, NPS-DDP, a nonprofit group founded by Marc Langley, owner of the Hebron-based Airborne Works, will deliver the unmanned drone to the East Great Plain Volunteer Fire Department on Monday, Chief Keith Milton said.
The department applied to the NPS-DDP in November 2018 for the device, which Milton expects will help incident commanders make more informed decisions at large-scale fire scenes, as well as the tough-to-reach brush fires where smoke-choked terrain makes it difficult to see a fire’s path.
“With a drone, we can get a view to see what direction the fire is traveling and if there are any other hazards in the area that the fire department may not be aware of,” Milton said. “We’ve also got a marina in the city that we protect. That’s a spot where there’ve been boating accidents where the drone would have allowed the fire department to be able to see exactly what’s going on and better assist responders. And we’ve had a couple of mill fires where having a drone would see behind those big structures.”
Milton, who learned of the drone donation program through a Connecticut Fire Academy notice, said the department has two licensed FAA 107 drone pilots and he’s ready to share the drone with other city fire departments, as well as with police.
“This is a drone we can get started with and later outfit with things like thermal imaging capabilities,” Milton said. “It’ll be housed at our department, but it’s really for use for the whole city.”
The donation was made possible with the help of AUTEL Robotics, a global drone manufacturer, and FoxFury Lighting Solutions, a public safety lighting solutions provider, which added lights to the drone.
Since 2019, NPS-DDP has donated drones to 21 police and fire departments, as well as search-and-rescue units, from Alaska to Florida, Langley said. He said one device was recently provided to the West Hartford police and fire departments and another will be delivered to West Haven departments this month.
“About 72% of all fire departments in the country are all-volunteer, which means they’re holding bake sales and bingo nights to buy everything from trucks to (oxygen packs),” Langley said. “The LAPD and the New York City fire departments have the budgets for this kind of equipment, so we’re focusing on volunteer departments without drone programs and without funding.”
In 2016, an anonymous $10,000 donation allowed the Plainfield Police Department to purchase a four-prop aerial drone that officials said would be used for in search-and-rescue, drug interdiction and accident investigation cases.
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