Licensed to Drone

By Patrick CampbellPocono Record Writer

COOLBAUGH TOWNSHIP — It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a… firefighter?

Six members of the Coolbaugh Township Volunteer Fire Department recently became licensed pilots and the department acquired a military-grade drone hoping they can utilize the technology to help keep the community safe.

“At the Coolbaugh Township Volunteer Fire Department we are always looking for better ways to protect the community and looking to technology is one of those ways,” said Scott Topping.

After reading how fire departments and emergency responders were using drones across the country, company member Kevin Ambrogio, Topping and four others began looking into using a drone at their own department.

In October, the group got licensed and the department bought a drone for $26,000. The equipment purchased includes two quadcopters, drones with four propellers, and one controlling device. According to Ambrogio, the specific drone purchased was designed with military and first responder use in mind and comes with a slew of special capabilities.

The drone is able to fly and maintain position in winds of up to 17 miles per hour and can fly up to a mile away from its operator while still transmitting images and video. The drone comes with three cameras permanently installed but also comes with attachable infrared and night vision cameras in the event they are ever needed.

With a battery life of 35 minutes, the department believes drones could save time in a situation where every moment is crucial.

“We get searches in the area for missing people, it’s really handy for that with the thermal camera. If you have a place, like a large facility, and there’s a fire there, to get a good size-up would take forever and you could send this right up,” Ambrogio said.

In addition to searches and surveying fires, the drone has a five-pound payload capacity and in rare situations could be used to transport small items to someone in distress.

“If you were lost in the woods, we could attach a radio to that and bring it to you. We never even have to be anywhere near you but you can have communication while we work on getting to you,” Ambrogio said.

The drone handles very similarly to many of the recreational drones on the market but unlike some drones, the department’s drone lacks landing gear so it is typically operated by two people. The department hopes that by training six pilots it will increase the chances that one never has to operate the drone alone. Department members Chris Ambrogio, George Dobson, Jim Frutchey III and Michael Ambrogio round out the group of pilots.

While they have not had to use the drone for any search and rescue missions or to survey any large fires, police departments for aerial surveys of accidents have called in the pilots. The pilots hope that as word spreads of their new tool that other departments from around the region will be able to utilize the technology as well.

When the pilots got approval to become licensed, they began reaching out to local businesses and raised about $12,000 to help offset the cost of the drone and are still actively seeking donations.

More information about the Coolbaugh Township Volunteer Fire Department can be found on their website at [Click for More]