Central Indiana police and fire departments learn new drone skills and tech

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BARGERSVILLE, Ind. – Several state and local public safety agencies gathered in Bargersville this week to learn the latest drone technology and expand their skills.

The two-day training class was conducted by Atlanta-based Skyfire at the Bargersville Fire Department.

Drone pilots attending the training represented the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, Indiana Department of Homeland Security, Wayne Township Fire Department, Bargersville Fire Department, Franklin Police Department and Vincennes Township Fire Department. A pilot who is originally from Indiana also represented the Costa Mesa, California Fire Department.

Skyfire CEO Matt Sloane said the training was designed for those who already know the basics of operating a drone in emergency situations.

“In the beginning, they all learn how to take off the drone, spin it around in a circle and land it,” Sloane said. “What we’re doing today are things like adjusting camera settings, and moving the drones really close to objects that are fixed. So it’s really a technical or tactical flying application.”

Sloane said central Indiana agencies are ahead of the curve compared to other parts of the country where he has trained public safety agencies.

“The idea today is to get them out here and start practicing some of the more advanced maneuvers, understanding the new technology that’s coming out, the new software,” Sloane said. “And then really diving into the technology they already have and how to use it more effectively.”

Some of the new technology included a small drone equipped with a protective, spherical cage around it. The Elios drone is designed to fly and bounce around inside confined spaces. Sloane said the drone can be very useful if it needs to go inside a drainage ditch, or inside a building.

Other technology included advance thermal imaging and drones equipped with P.A. speakers. Wayne Township Fire Captain Mike Pruitt said the P.A. loudspeaker can be used to deliver recorded messages to emergency victims in places that first responders can’t physically reach. Such situations could include people stuck on a boat or taking shelter in a dangerous area.

“Shelter in place or evacuate to a local shelter, or whatever we need them to do,” Pruitt said. “We can do that utilizing the drone. We can deliver a message to calm them down, or give them instructions.”

Skills practice at the training session included using a drone to carry a floatation device to someone involved in a water rescue situation. Training also included close-proximity flying and adjusting camera settings for different situations.

Rushville Police Chief Craig Tucker says drone footage proved crucial in assessing recent tornado damage in his community.

“It was very interesting to see all the information we were able to gain from a different perspective,” Tucker said. “We were able to utilize that and then give that footage over to the National Weather Service and let them do their assessments and determine what type of damage we had sustained and what the dollar figure was going to be.”

Tucker and others at the training class said drones have already proven to be life-saving tools in their communities. They encourage all Indiana agencies to embrace the technology as the new normal for modern public safety.

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