Northwest Fire adds new tool for rescue teams

Taking rescue efforts to new heights

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - With monsoon season quickly approaching, one Southern Arizona fire agency is ready to use a new tool when responding to an emergency.

“Three of the biggest things that we face are wildfires, hiker rescues and swift water rescues," said Captain Brian Keeley, spokesperson for the Northwest Fire District. “To be able to get into this technology and to be able to better serve the public, it’s a win-win for everyone.”

The Northwest Fire District purchased the large, second drone to add to their fleet after a train derailed during a heavy thunderstorm last year near I-10 and Cortaro Road.

The NWFD used a small drone to capture video of the wreckage to send to emergency management and city officials during the response. Captain Brian Keeley said that incident showed how beneficial it is for first responders to have a set of eyes in the skies, prompting the department’s purchase.

“It allows us to get to those people and potentially get them the life saving things they need like life preservers or food or water much quicker than we can get by hiking or walking to it," said Keeley.

Keeley said NWFD is the first fire agency in Southern Arizona to add a drone to emergency response operations.

There are three cameras on the drone to capture a different type of image. Two can be used at the same time.

Keeley said a “mega-zoom” camera will help crews see farther than ever, with the potential to spot a hiker who may have called for help on a mountain path. Another camera, a forward-looking infrared, will pick up heat signatures. That would be able to show crews a person may be trying to get out of a car that is stuck in a wash.

“For either water rescues, hiker rescues, fires, where we’re looking for hot spots or anything else, these camera systems, we can deploy them in a way that’s most advantageous to us," Keeley said.

With a trained pilot, the department hopes the piece of technology will help save lives. Keeley said access to the pilot and drone will be on a somewhat ‘on-call’ status, with a high alert on busy weather forecasts.

“The drone doesn’t remove any of the human resources that we need for these, but it drastically improves our ability to reach those in need quicker and in a safer manner," said Keeley.

There was money allotted in the Northwest Fire District’s budget to purchase the drone.

Other fire agencies in Southern Arizona are investing in drone technology. Law enforcement agencies in the area also use similar drones for investigations.

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