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Phoenix Fire Department using drones as a life-saving tool

PHOENIX — Drones have been used for everything ranging from a fun hobby to real estate photography. Now in the Valley, the devices are being used by the Phoenix Fire Department to help save lives.

The Phoenix Fire Department began using drones this month to help firefighters locate people who need rescue and to give emergency crews real-time information during structure fires and hazmat situations.

Fire Chief Mike Duran said the drones protect both civilians and firefighters.

"What we are bringing here today is innovation for us here in the Phoenix Fire Department, but also for the city of Phoenix,” Duran said. “What opportunities for us to use a tool and a resource that's going to help with response to the community, as well as help for the safety of our firefighters."

During a drone demonstration, Capt. Kenny Overton described how a drone might be used in a myriad of tense situations.

"As we approach these scenes, we have information from dispatch and from callers about what's going on, but we don't really know what's going on until we can get there and see it," Overton said.

He explained the cameras on board the drones allow crews to see placards on overturned semi-trucks containing chemicals, letting them know what type of response is needed.

"Having the ability to perform this long-range reconnaissance is something that's very timely not only for the public, but for our firefighters and members as well,” Overton said.

Division Chief Daniel Cheatham oversees the drone program and is one of the few certified Phoenix Fire Department pilots.

Cheatham said he has already seen the difference the drones can make.

"It really gives public safety the opportunity to do quick information gathering,” he said. “They can cover large areas over a quick amount of time and they give us a better understanding of the obstacles that are presented at an emergency."

The drones are equipped with thermal imaging, as well as map navigation, which gives pilots the ability to send the drone to an exact location.

The department currently has three drones and nine pilots.