Orange County water rescue units training with drones

Battalion Chief says unmanned aerial support will debut in late fall

By Mike Holfeld - Investigative Reporter

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Orange County’s fire and water rescue teams will soon be using as many as six unmanned drones to assist department emergency operations as early as October.

Battalion Chief Jason Perrigo, one of the first licensed drone pilots in the department, told News 6 the unmanned aerial systems have been very effective during first responder training sessions.

Perrigo said once the FAA approves the department’s license application the drones can be deployed to emergency calls.

On Wednesday, the county’s water rescue team ran a hypothetical rescue call involving a driver who
lost control of his vehicle and went underwater in Little Lake Conway.

The department has been using two drones purchased as part of phase one of an unmanned aerial pilot program that is expected to expand over the next five years.

Lt. Brandon Allen, of Orange County’s Dive and Rescue unit, said the drone’s aerial vantage point, approximately 10 feet, means less delays in reaching victims.

“We’re talking about saving lives even faster than we have before," Allen told News 6. “That drone gives us a much bigger view, (an) aerial shot of the water.”

The four drones approved for the fiscal 2017-2018 budget Tuesday will cost an estimated $80,000 to $100,000.

Allen said each training session has helped them understand the wide benefits of the drone systems.

First responders told News 6 the water rescue training sessions conducted at night were impressive. They said the drones provided better visuals of victims that in theory, might not be recovered without the drone aerial support.

“The visibility is going to be pitch black,” said Allen,“so if we have that drone in the air, we’ve got the infrared, we’ve got the flare on that victim. If they’re on the surface, that victim will stand out like a beacon. We’re saving lives.”

During the budget presentation this week, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs told News 6 she is “all in” when it comes to the drone project.

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