Mesa Fire And Medical Drones Take Off

Published: Wednesday, January 3, 2018 - 5:00am
Updated: Wednesday, January 3, 2018 - 5:04pm
(Photo by Mariana Dale -KJZZ)
Deputy Shift Cmdr. Brian Kotsur is one of three licensed pilots in the department.

Mesa’s Fire and Medical Department bought its first drones almost three years ago.

Now the unmanned vehicles regularly take flight over search-and-rescue missions and large fires.

“I can put this thing up in the air, get a 360 view all the way around, a bird’s eye view, in a safe position,” said Deputy Shift Cmdr. Brian Kotsur, one of three licensed pilots in the department. “I can show the commanding officer, and I can give them whatever viewpoint they want.”

While the department has binoculars and thermal imaging cameras, they only gave a view from ground level.

Kotsur said the drones can save the department time and ultimately money. For example, taking the place of a helicopter in a search for a lost hiker in the mountains or evaluating the number of people needed to fight a fire before they are dispatched.

He said the biggest challenge has been educating crews about how to utilize the drones.

“When we show up on scenes and are able to show crews what we can do and how it can benefit them real quickly, they see the advantages,” Kotsur said.

The program’s four drones cost almost $10,000 when they were purchased in 2015. A partnership with drone instructor John Nunes allows the department to access more advanced equipment such as a thermal imaging camera.

Kotsur says the department is searching for grants and private partnerships to expand the program.

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