Northport begins using drone in emergencies


By Terri Brewer
Northport Fire and Rescue

Northport Fire Rescue has been using a drone as part of its training for several months, but now, the department is beginning to use the drone in real emergencies.

A tanker fire Friday marked the first time Northport Fire Rescue used the tool in a real-life situation. Northport Fire Chief Bart Marshall says a drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle, has numerous uses for first responders.

Northport Drone

“One of the biggest benefits I see is for a hazmat incident,” Marshall said. “We can literally put it in the air in a matter of minutes, fly down and identify the product, come back, get a live feed of it, and then come back and it tells us how to mitigate the incident.”

The department also says the drone could be used in searching for a missing person, surveying after a disaster and inspecting buildings.

Marshall says another key benefit is assessing a situation, without putting a firefighter in danger. “It’s just a tool that provides responder safety and public safety, where we can get somebody in there close and give us a 360 view of the incident, and not have to put a man or persons in jeopardy.”

The growing popularity of drones has raised privacy concerns across the country. Marshall says his department’s purpose for using the drone is public safety, and he says there are rules they have to follow.

“We are following the FAA guidelines, and it’s a whole licensing process that takes a little bit of time. We utilize it as a hobbyist, and we use it for public safety, so we feel like the benefits outweigh the risks,” Marshall explained.

The department also says it has been working with the Governor’s office in the development of regulations on drones and their use in public safety.

Marshall said Northport’s drone cost less than $2500, which he believes is very cost effective, considering its wide array of uses. Because of the cost effectiveness, Marshall predicts drones will be a common tool for first responders in the near future.