Florida firefighters test and fly advanced rescue drones

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Southern Manatee County Fire and Rescue has taken emergency aviation to new heights. They've partnered with the world's largest drone manufacturer, DJI, to test and fly these modern marvels.

Drone team member Rich Gatanis believes the technology has come a long way. 

"Early on, drones were looked at from a negative perspective. But what's happening now is they're starting to see how positive drones can be in emergency service response," he said. 

Southern Manatee currently has four drones in their fleet, and these aren't children's toys. They carry some of the most sophisticated emergency response equipment in the state of Florida, like high-definition cameras and thermal sensors.

Recently that technology was put to the test during a sulfur fire at the Port of Manatee. A thermal camera revealed where the fire was hottest, and an air-monitoring device kept track of the smoke plume, aiding first responders on the ground. 

Team member Shawn McMullen believes the technology is a game-changer. 

"We don't want to send someone into a combustible atmosphere. You'd have to send someone in there to find out that it is flammable so that saves us from potentially hurting someone," Shawn explained.

But for Southern Manatee, these machines are much more than firefighting tools. They're eyes in the sky that could one day save your life, too. 

"We can see heat signatures, whether it's a missing child or a lost person, so it's really elevated that UAS platform to another level," Gatanis said.

Also, one of the most important things the drones save is time. "Now with the drones, within 10 minutes we can have them in the air, getting that real-time information quickly," Gatanis added.

In a crisis situation, that could mean the difference between life and death.