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franklin county times

Phil Campbell Rescue Squad acquires drone

The Phil Campbell Rescue Squad is reaching new heights thanks to the Alabama Association of Rescue Squads awarding it one of five Unmanned Aircraft Systems – drone technology that will aid in rescue efforts.

The system is provided by the Alabama Association of RC&D Councils. Part of the AARS requirement is that the UAS will be available to the surrounding rescue squads and fire departments.

The Phil Campbell squad got the news in a letter March 14. Rescue squad members Michael Pounders and Blake Mason attended a short ceremony and training on the aircraft March 26 at the Huntsville-Madison County Rescue Squad training facility.

Pouders said the rescue squad has been working for more than a year to get a UAS, also known as a drone.  One of the requirements was that they had to have at least one person with their FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot License.

This past August, Pounders passed the test and acquired a used DJI Phantom 4 Pro to practice flying.

“We have about four members working on getting their licenses,” said Pounders, “and when they have that done, we will start training them on flying the drone. We want there to be a UAS pilot available at all times.”

The primary use will be search and rescue; however, Pounders said the drone can also be used in training exercises. It can be used to locate hotspots in wildfires and guide crews to those locations. It can also help identify hazards through seeing placards on tankers that have been involved in crashes.

Pounders will be attending a class next month that will use GIS and drones to do mock searches for a missing person.

“I am looking forward to getting a lot more training on everything. Search and Rescue and GIS Search and Rescue exercises will be conducted at Camp Hulaco in Baileyton, and that will provide good hands-on experience to practice what we will be learning.”

The drone is a DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise. It boasts a range of more than two miles, with a flight time of 30 minutes per battery, and sports a 4K Ultra HD camera with 32 times zoom capability. It comes with six battery backs, a spotlight, speaker/PA system and beacon/strobe light. It can fly for about three and a half hours.

It also includes a built-in thermal camera, which means the ability to measure surface temperatures.

“Thermal imaging is a very useful tool,” explained Pounders. “It allows for search and rescue operations to cover a large area more efficiently. That’s especially helpful in the event of someone being unconscious or frightened.”

He said situations in which such a tool could prove beneficial include finding a frightened child who might be hiding or a disoriented Alzheimer’s patient who has wandered off. Pounders said areas like a corn field or tall grass would normally be difficult for a person to see into, and using the drone will make that much easier.

“Turning on thermal imaging will show people as hotter objects and let us locate them more readily,” he said. “We’re excited about having this new tool so we can better help our community.”