Firefighters Learn How UAVs Can Assist in Emergencies

North Mankato, MN –

Drones are a growing trend for years now among consumers.

Now, with proper training, they can be a tool for emergency responders as well.


For the finale of the 2018 Minnesota State Fire School & Expo, drones took to the sky.

Al Ebbinga taught a couple dozen area firefighters just what a “drone” can do in an emergency situation.

Beyond how the machine can benefit first responders on scene, the class aims to clarify the perception of the name “drone” and how it’s been used.


Ebbinga said “It is an aircraft and the people operating them are pilots. You are a pilot and you’re flying an aircraft in the national airspace system. We’re trying to get the toy mentality out of there, but it’s not a toy. We even try and shy away from the term “drone” and we refer to it as an “unmanned aerial vehicle” or an “unmanned aircraft system.” Just to reinforce that pilot/aircraft responsibility.”

Following the lecture portion of the course, firefighters got an opportunity to see it in action.

Either witnessing the various maneuvers and functions of the UAV in the sky or viewing what the camera was capturing on a TV.

So far, the Nicollet County Sheriff’s Department is the only agency around the area to have an unmanned aerial vehicle, but that’s presumed to change.


Just in the National Parks Service alone, eleven search and rescue operations take place daily with consumer drones. While no local fire departments have a UAV today, that is expected to change dramatically in the coming years. This machine has the capability of flying 400 feet in the air to locate missing people outside and heat inside structures.”

These machines are equipped with a thermal imaging camera which picks up heat signatures.

That mechanism paired with the ability to add a perspective in the sky is catching the eyes of fire departments who may look to purchase one in the future.


North Mankato firefighter Corey Brunton said “A lot of times, we want to make sure we do a 360 around the fire scene. I think this could be a very valuable tool for that. Especially with the thermal imaging camera component, being able to identify where the fire is.”

An unmanned aircraft system bringing critical information to those now trained on the ground.


There are more than 30,000 fire departments in the United States, yet less than 1,000 are using UAVs.

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