The future of emergency services in the Back Mountain could soon be up in the air. Literally.
Municipal leaders plan to purchase a military-grade aerial drone to assist police and fire department operations from up above.
A group of municipalities, known as the Back Mountain Community Partnership, recently were awarded grant money from the state that includes funding for shared police equipment, such as the proposed drone.
“The sky’s the limit of what it could be used for. It will be a very great regional tool,” said Jackson Twp. Supervisor John Wilkes, president of the partnership and deputy chief with Back Mountain Regional Fire and EMS.
It’s believed this will be the first emergency services drone in Luzerne County.
The Back Mountain Community Partnership — comprised of Dallas Borough, Dallas Twp., Franklin Twp., Harveys Lake, Jackson Twp., Kingston Twp. and Lehman Twp. — was recently awarded $390,001 for shared police equipment. The group plans to purchase license plate readers, vehicles, a message board and other standard equipment. But the drone stands out as unique.
High-end drones used by police and fire departments sell for tens of thousands of dollars.
The unmanned drone the partnership is eyeing, manufactured by InstantEye Robotics, flies in all weather, is equipped with a camera and thermal imaging, and transmits real-time footage. It weighs 3.1 pounds and flies up to 35 miles per hour. Total cost is $32,745, which includes an extensive training course for operators.
Alone, municipalities couldn’t afford such an expenditure, but together they can, Wilkes said.
“That’s the great part about us looking at these things for shared use,” Wilkes said. “There’s no boundaries with emergencies.”
Officials in the region started thinking about buying a drone after a missing person’s case last year in Lake Silkworth, Lehman Twp. police Sgt. Mark Liparela said.
After days of searching by foot for Adam Lutz, a family member of Lutz brought in a drone and circled the lake. He shared footage with police.
“The drone went all over the lake, the shore, the woods. It covered a lot of ground from a bird’s eye view we couldn’t see,” Liparela said. “The footage was incredible. Unfortunately it couldn’t see under water.”
Lutz, 22, was eventually found dead in the lake following a dive team search.
Another missing persons case weeks later, involving an elementary school student, convinced officials a drone was needed, Harveys Lake police Chief Charles Musial said.
In that case, a girl who was being bullied fled her home and left a note she planned to harm herself. It was nighttime and temperatures were cold, he said.
Musial called Luzerne County 911 to ask if any local municipalities had a drone to deploy. He was told no one had a drone. Musial requested a state police helicopter and a tracking team with a dog. The wait time was 90 minutes for the helicopter and an hour for the dog, he said.
A local drone would have been up in minutes, Musial said. The girl was eventually found safely by the tracking dog, he said.
Members of the partnership were wise in seeking a drone and state leaders were smart in approving funding for such a piece of equipment, Musial said.
“We got it. I’m overwhelmed,” Musial said. “This is a big plus.”
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