Upper Township Fire Department rolls out new drone program

Local News

LAWRENCE COUNTY, Ohio (WOWK) — Drones have become an increasingly popular recreational hobby, but one local fire department is turning to drones to save lives.

The Upper Township Volunteer Fire Department’s drone program is already being used in the field, and with this new technology in their hands, they hope to assist folks quicker in emergency situations.

It all started about two years ago during the two-day manhunt for Arron Lawson, a man now convicted of murdering four people.

Assistant Fire Chief John Blankenship has been flying drones for several years and recognized then how a drone might have assisted in the search to find the now-convicted killer.

With that lesson under his belt, Blankenship was behind the effort to bring drones into the department’s equipment list. Now, the department has four drones.

“We can put that thing in the air [and] check on the driver of a vehicle,” said Fire Chief JD Pancake. “There’s so many options that we can do [while keeping our firefighters safe] in the process.”

“These can be used for hazmat situations,” said Blankenship. “We can do an overwatch of structure fires.”

The drone can also drop a life jacket during a flash flood situation to someone in need while firefighters pull the person to safety.

“We assisted Lawrence Township on a search and rescue,” said Blankenship. “Some people on horseback got lost out in the county.”

Those people were found thanks to the drone’s thermal camera.

The total price tag for the drone was close to $7,500 dollars, and Chief Pancake says he’s taken heat over the money spent.

“People have questioned why we spend the money, is it necessary? If it saves one life, it’s worth every penny,” said Pancake. “We felt that we’ve already made our money back by finding the people that evening in the dark.”

Pancake and Blankenship tell 13 News they’ve already been on four different missions with the drones, and that aside being an extra tool at their disposal, the drones allow their guys to stay safe before heading into a search and rescue situation or a structure fire.

The Upper Township Volunteer Fire Department is the only agency in Lawrence County with this drone technology.

They have already assisted with a search and rescue mission in Kentucky as well.

While agencies in Kentucky and West Virginia do have access to drones, it’s the thermal imaging in the fire department’s drone that allows different agencies to work quicker and safer.

The Upper Township Volunteer Fire Department says it wants to thank their board of trustees for their support in getting the funding to purchase the drones.

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