When firefighters and police went to the scene of a house that burned to the ground while the family was gone for spring break, they used a drone to get a detailed view of the damage.
Investigators discovered that teenagers broke in to the home, stole items and set the fire as they were walking out the door.
The family’s home burned March 16, and the arson case is still under investigation.
Hurst is beefing up its use of drones, also called unmanned aerial vehicles, after seeing how other cities such as Arlington and Mansfield are utilizing them.
“This is another tool we can use. We can go out and help the public,” Hurst Fire Lt. Sean Hepler said.
Fire Chief David Palla said Hurst spent $11,000 to buy the drones along with the cameras and iPads to control them, and they have proved to be invaluable, he said.
The Bedford fire department isn’t using drones, but late last year, the police department conducted a study and determined that having a drone was a good idea for search and rescue, lifesaving and law enforcement, spokeswoman Natalie Foster said in an email.
Bedford purchased a drone and an officer completed training required to fly it.
Currently, the department is waiting to receive certification from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly in Bedford which has highly restricted airspace because it is near Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.
Euless does not have plans to buy a drone at this time, spokeswoman Betsy Deck said.
Arlington has used drones since 2013. The Fort Worth police department also has a drone
Last year, the National League of Cities issued a report to address how cities can deal with the growing popularity of drones.
Hurst’s Palla said seven firefighters and four police officers are certified to fly the drones and the fire department is going to add six more certified pilots
The police department has two small drones that can be used inside, in situations where there is an active shooter or if the SWAT team wants to assess the area before going in. The fire department has a larger drone that can carry things such as a life-preserver or a radio to let the person in trouble know that help is on the way.
He added that when the FAA changed the rules for using drones in September, Hurst received waivers that allow the first responders to use the drones outside of Hurst and to fly them at night.
Palla said Hurst helped search for the Trophy Club dad Matthew Meinert who was found dead in Denton Creek several days after he was struck by the boat propeller. His 2-year-old son Oliver was found alive in the woods.
The fire department also helped the Tarrant County Medical Examiner search for bones in Denton County.
Palla said his ultimate goal is to have pilots and drones available 24 hours a day so that Hurst can help where needed.
Protecting first responders
Kevin Ayers an engineer with the fire department said that firefighters often encounter unknowns such as chemical spills.
“If a tanker truck crashes and is oozing out something we don’t know what’s there,” Ayers said.
“We don’t have to get anyone right up next to it (the spill). We can get information (from the drone) without exposing personnel,” he said.”That’s a fireman’s nightmare. It could be something as simple as water or some kind of liquid awfulness,” he said.
Detective Chad Woodside said drones are useful in helping police get a detailed look at an accident scene or situations such as a burglary or an active shooter.
“A drone can fly through a doorway and look under a desk or look in a closet. It’s not easy. It’s hard work, but I can say that there is a desk on your left or a person,” Woodside said.