WEST GOSHEN—First responders in Chester County have embraced the technology, with the $17,000 purchase of a life-saving drone.
“We use drones to save lives,” Martin Helmke, of the Fame Fire Company, West Chester Fire Department, West Chester Task Force and is a professor of geology at West Chester University.
The drone will support the Chester County Rescue Task Force.
“We will use the drone when an event is large enough to exceed the capabilities of a fire company and requires additional resources,” Helmke said.
Two FAA-approved drone operators control the two-foot-wide device, which operates from a board that looks like a very complicated game console. With the use of GPS, the drone can map an area of hundreds of acres, from a perch up to 400 feet above ground level.
An observer watches nearby aircraft.
The recently purchased DJI Matrice 30T drone can fly at 50 mph. or in 50 mph winds, but Helmke said he would only use the drone in winds up to 35 mph.
The setup time is five minutes so that the satellites can find the position of the drone and the pilots can connect. A pilot can also zoom into an area below.
“It’s not about drones, it’s about data capability,” Helmke told a group of about two dozen sponsors and emergency responders at the West Chester Fire Service Training Center on Snyder Ave.
Chester County task force leader Kevin Corcoran said the device can also protect emergency responders.
“If there’s a hostile environment, why would you send a firefighter there when you can send a drone?” asked Corcoran. “It’s the future of your security.”
Helmke told emergency responders on Friday that drones can be invaluable during many events, including in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.
“I imagine it would have been useful to fly over Downingtown to access the damage,” Helmke said.
Search and rescue operations could benefit.
“Imagine a person lost in a cornfield,” Helmke said.
In the event of a building collapse, the stability of a structure could be assessed, with forensic expertise prior to entry.
A thermal sensor can detect fires and people trapped inside, even at night.
West Chester Fire Department Chief Steve Pelna said the drones are “one more tool in the toolbox”.
Pelna: “The most important thing is safety. We want to make sure that all first responders go home the same way they came.
Pelna said that while drones are expensive, they are expendable.
“We would much rather find a way to replace a drone than tell a firefighter’s family that their loved one has been injured,” he said.
Helmke said he hopes the use of new technology will inspire young volunteers to join fire companies.
Corporate sponsorship made the purchase possible. Contributions included: Bentley Systems, Sartomer, Moose Meadows Charitable Fund and Daniels Consulting Engineers.
Dan Koval and his employer, Bentley Systems in Eagleview, support emergency responders and the community.
“We believe in a holistic community and want our colleagues and their families to be happy, healthy and safe,” Koval said.
Gina Mazzulla works at Bentley, which supports community infrastructure, and is also an EMT at Berwyn Fire Company.
“I recognize the importance of supporting our fire and emergency services and having a direct appreciation of what Bentley does makes that support even better,” she said.
To donate to your local emergency responders, contact your local fire company.