Granite Falls Getting Drone, Maybe Boat

Granite Falls firefighters are moving up and out – up in the air and out on the water.

The Granite Falls Fire Department this year is getting a specialized aerial drone that includes thermal imaging equipment, and town officials hope in the 2018-19 fiscal year, which begins July 1, to get a boat for the fire department to conduct water rescues.

The DJI Matrice 200 drone and its iPad-based controls together cost about $14,000, according to a budget document presented to the town council. DJI calls itself “the world’s leading manufacturer of civilian drones and aerial imaging technology.”

The drone, and especially its thermal imaging, will be helpful in multiple ways, and not just to the fire department, Fire Chief Brian Bennett told the council:

*It can locate the hottest and coolest areas in a building on fire, so firefighters know the safest way to approach, and also find people inside a burning building.

*After a large fire, such as last July’s fire at The Old Shuford Mill, it can help with damage assessment and reach areas that are still unsafe for fire investigators.

*It can help in searches for crime suspects on the run or people lost in the woods. Children, for instance, tend to wind up hiding in brush when they are lost and afraid, Bennett said.

*It can help the water department inspect water towers to look for leaks.

*After a major storm, such as the one that hit Granite Falls and southeastern Caldwell County in October and toppled dozens of large trees, it can help with damage assessment.

Four firefighters are currently taking training to become FAA-certified drone pilots, Bennett said.

The fire department is seeking the town council’s approval to get a flat-bottomed rescue boat, at an estimated cost of $35,000, because the town last year took over rescue duties following the dissolution last year of the Lovelady Rescue Squad, Bennett said. The cost includes sonar equipment, which by itself normally costs about $8,000, that would allow a crew to search the entire lake bottom.

Lovelady once was the only rescue squad in the county equipped for water search-and-rescue operations.

Bennett said that in case of a boating or other emergency on the water, Granite Falls would have to rely on the help of other nearby agencies, which would involve a delay in help arriving.

Granite Falls has three major waterfront developments, Bennett said, so the town should be prepared for an emergency on the water.

Both the drone and the boat came up during presentations related to the town’s 2018-19 budget, which is still under development. Town Manager Jerry Church said work on it is far from finished, but at the moment he does not expect to propose any change in the town’s property tax rate. Property and sales tax revenue currently are up from last year. [Click for More]