“You read almost daily of an agency or two that have used a drone successfully in their line of work,” said Vinal Applebee, chief UAV pilot for DEEMI Search and Rescue.
Drones- powering up to assist law enforcement and emergency management agencies in their day to day endeavors, from reconstructing accidents to saving lives.
“We noticed they didn't have life jackets on. And it was critical for us to make sure they had a PFD on prior to us actually going out and trying to get them off the rock. If they were to have gone into the river without a life jacket, the potential for them to become injured would have been pretty serious,” said Chief Frank Roma of the Hermon Fire Department, and former chief of the Auburn Fire Department.
It was July 2015 when two young boys got stuck in the middle of a raging Mechanic Falls river, and thanks to the use of Chief Roma's personal drone, saving them became a lot easier.
“I had a drone that I just used for hobby aerial photography and looking at the situation while we were getting out swift water team set up, i thought that there would be an opportunity to use it to get a tag line out to these two individuals so they could pull life jackets out to them. I felt confident in the abilities of the equipment,” said Chief Roma.
This is just one of the first examples of drones helping out in an emergency situation.
Fast forward two years later, and the sky is the limit.
“Time is of the essence when you're talking about someone lost,” said Applebee.
Down East Emergency Medicine Institute, better known as DEEMI, was one of the first organizations in the state to adopt the use of drones in their searches for missing people, taking the search capabilities one step further, with drones allowing them to search in any weather condition at any time of day.
“We are certified to fly at night. So we can go looking in the evening time with an infrared camera,” said Applebee.
In drone footage using the infrared camera, humans appear to be a blob of color. That's because the infrared camera on the drone is able to detect the temperature of a human body. So that way, if a person is lost at sea or lost in the middle of the woods, the drone flying by will be able to detect their body heat, hopefully leading to a rescue.
“What we're able to do if we do find a victim is spot it on the image, then the drone can help lead the ground search parties directly to the victim or the lost person,” said Applebee.
Other state agencies are now looking at how drones can benefit them, including the Maine Forest Service.
“There was a small forest fire down in Columbia Falls this summer, and we assisted the Maine Forest Service by overflying with our infrared camera, overflying the area, and determine hot spots that remained,” said Applebee.
“They have great applications on wild land fires for trying to find the perimeters on a fire or where it's extending. For fires where there are buildings that have burned and are unsafe, you can use them to actually look into the buildings or for arson investigations, hazardous materials in particular, where you don't necessarily want to put human resources, you can find a drone down range to see what exactly the materials are that are involved or what's going on,” said Chief Roma.
Many major cities have invested in drone's of their own, and both Applebee and Roma believe it's something that is just beginning to take off.
“I think we're only scratching the surface of what UAVs, i.e. drones, will be doing in the emergency services in the years to come. The applications are pretty much only limited by common sense and your imagination,” said Chief Roma.