On Thursday, Sept. 13, Eastside Fire and Rescue held a public demonstration of their new drone donated by longtime supporter and Medic One Foundation donor Barbara Hamer.
The drone is a DGI Matrice 210 which, with all the included equipment, is a donation valued at about $35,000 according to Eastside Fire and Recuse (EFR) Deputy Chief Richard Burke and Medic One Foundation Executive Director Jan Sprake.
At the demonstration, which was held at Fire Station 87 in North Bend, Burke explained that this drone can fly at up to 85 mph and is capable of being flown at night. The drone is equipped with both a thermal and gimbal cameras to conduct searches when responding to a call. The thermal camera allows the pilots and incident commanders to locate fires or body heat, and it will be able to reduce the amount of time spent looking for people in need of help. It is piloted by two people, one who controls the flight and another who controls the cameras.
It is also equipped with a mechanism that can grab packages, such as medical supplies, that can be flown over to the caller.
“This contribution by Barbara and the Medic One Foundation … will truly revolutionize the way we do our business,” Burke said. “In every emergency incident, two things are our challenges — communications and information. Communications because we are working off a radio and only one person can talk at a time… an incident commander from a remote perspective is trying to collect that information, process it, and say, ‘I think this is their need so this is the resource I’m going to put in place.’ But if I can hover a drone over a large incident and I can see it with my own eyes and then I can hear their description, I know exactly what I need to do resolve that problem now.”
The drone, he said, will be able to fly eight miles of river in about 20 minutes, and with heat and video cameras EFR will be able to locate the people calling for help significantly faster than ever before.
EFR had explored the possibility of using drone technology, but it found the cost of the technology would be a big financial jump, especially because they did not have the skill-set within the agency and people need to be trained and certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Hamer, currently a resident of Seattle, has been a supporter of EFR, Medic One, and the Medic One Foundation for a long time. Hamer’s husband had received service from EFR and Medic One several times in his life before passing away, so Hamer’s family had been making annual contributions to the foundation in his name as a way of supporting the organization that had supported them so many times.
When Hamer heard that EFR was interested in a drone she was excited to help. Her education in drone technology had her motivated to help EFR acquire the equipment.
“When she heard about the fact that EFR was interested in a drone she became very excited, because at 77 years old Barbara is working on her master’s degree in drone technology,” Burke said.
Hamer met with EFR and helped them refine what they needed to look for in a possible drone acquisition. She ordered her own drone, identical to the one donated to EFR, so she could start flying as well. She even joined Burke and the EFR crew on a swift water rescue practice drill where she could see how the drone technology would impact rescue attempts.
At the demonstration event, EFR pilots were on hand to show off the drone’s capabilities. Both Sprake and Burke gave a short speech about the donation and how it would improve the capabilities of the organization. Hamer could not attend that day, however Sprake read a comment Hamer had given her for the event.
“We feel so lucky to be able to fund this drone for Eastside Fire and Rescue via the Medic One Foundation. The project is really the merger of two of my passions — emergency response and drone technology,” Hamer wrote. “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. This new technology will give them a hand up in so many ways as they are helping to save lives. It’s just a pleasure to be able to give back to a system that has helped my family so many times.”
With the drone now in the hands of EFR, Burke said the next step is proper implementation with a drone deployment rig and trained staff. They currently have three trained and FAA-licensed pilots available, but they are hoping to get another eight to 10 licenses in the coming months in order to have at least two pilots available at any time.
EFR also has a another system called Caller Location Query (CLQ) that will work well with the implementation of the drone. Burke explained that CLQ is a system that 911 dispatch can use to locate the person calling for help. If used, dispatch will text the calling phone a link that will ping the GPS location of the phone. That signal narrows down the possible area of the caller’s location. A second text message can be used to narrow the location even further, getting a caller’s approximate location down to a three to four foot area.
With this information, the drone can be sent to the direct coordinates that dispatch obtains, making response times even faster. The drone can check up on the caller to confirm the location and assess their status, while responders make their way out to help.