Phoenix Fire Department's new drone program to help find lost hikers, battle fires
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- It's an all too familiar scene, hikers having to be rescued from a Phoenix-area mountain because of dehydration, the Arizona heat, or some other injury.
Phoenix firefighters went on 240 mountain rescues last year, oftentimes putting their own lives at risk, having to climb rough terrain in extreme temperatures. Getting to stranded hikers is not always easy. But help is on the way. The Phoenix Fire Department wants to start using drones to find and rescue hikers faster and more efficiently.
"Anything that can shorten the amount of time that they're out there is a good thing," said hiker Colin Bresnahan.
Phoenix Fire Captain Todd Keller will be heading up the new drone program that just got approval from the city's public safety sub-committee. Keller said other agencies across the country have successfully used drones for search and rescue operations, and he believes the same can be done here.
"If it's the middle of summer and you have a patient that's lost on South Mountain, and we can't locate them by foot, but from an elevated position, we find them and relay coordinates. We can get to a patient faster, and it could mean life or death," Keller said.
In the past, multiple crews have been sent up all sides of a mountain to find a struggling hiker. Having a drone can speed up the process while reducing the physical impact on firefighters. Concerns have been raised about protecting the privacy of other hikers, but Keller said drone policies and procedures would be clearly outlined for the public and reviewed by city attorneys. Hiker Elyse Gatar said if the drones are used for emergencies only, she's OK with them.
"I think there might be a concern in terms of disturbance, noise, and sound, but I think if it's used for the right reason at the right time, then it's appropriate and necessary," said Gatar.
The Phoenix Fire Department plans to create a community education program to make the public aware of how the drones will be used.
The drones will also be used for water rescues and help fight brush and structure fires. They're hoping to launch the new drone program by June 1st.
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