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Phoenix fire to use drones for mountain rescues

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Posted at 4:47 PM, Jan 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-19 19:24:36-05

PHOENIX — Starting in June, the Phoenix Fire Department will begin using drones for mountain rescues. The department says they will get three to four drones this year and certify about a dozen people to start with.

Captain Todd Keller said the drones will be helpful on all rescues, especially on mountains where there are miles of open trails and people can get lost easily.

“A lot of these times, these hikers they get off-trail or they don’t know where they are, there aren’t a lot of access points to South Mountain, so if we can get there, launch this drone, find where that person is and relay those coordinates....and then they can actually get to that person and help them," he said.

Keller will be one of the first certified drone operators. He said the drones will also be able to deliver small items.

"If there’s a situation where somebody is out of water, we can bring water to them. Or if a cell phone battery is dying, we can deliver a cell phone and continue that communication," he said.

The drones will especially be helpful in the hot summer months. Last year, the city adopted a program to limit hiking on extremely hot days. Under the policy, trails on Piestewa and Camelback will be closed from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on days when the National Weather Service issues an Excessive Heat Warning. The program was launched after several Phoenix firefighters had heat-related issues due to back-to-back rescues.

Keller said the drones will also be used for brush fires to help them access remote areas and plan ahead. He said they will also be beneficial during commercial fires.

"This could be the difference between life and death if we’re in a big commercial structure fire, a restaurant fire, and we see from an elevated position that this roof is starting to collapse, hey we know to get our firemen and women out of there," he said.

The department said they want to make sure to maintain people's privacy, especially with homes around trails. Keller said the drones will not record video or take pictures until they find the hiker and start rescue operations.

"This was a hard enough hike in January, I can’t imagine in the summer months, so I think if something were to happen, you slip and you get injured, I would certainly hope that somebody could get to meet relatively quick," said Jamie Jobe.

Hikers on Camelback Wednesday say they like the idea of using drones.