Footville Fire Department buzzing with pride over new drone


Shelly Birkelo

FOOTVILLE—Footville fire Capt. Kris Ommodt can imagine many uses for his department’s new drone.

He offered this scenario:

An elderly man with dementia wanders away from his Rock County home.

Footville firefighters respond and hover their department’s drone over a nearby cornfield. Looking at a video feed from the pilotless aircraft, they see a suspicious object. Using GPS coordinates from the drone, they quickly direct people on foot to the location, and the missing man is found.

When it enters service next month, the Footville drone may become the first one owned and operated by a fire department in Rock County, Ommodt said.

“It’s nice to have that cutting-edge technology to offer other departments and communities, as well,” Ommodt said.

The $1,100, four-blade mini-helicopter, a Yuneec Q500 Plus, was donated by a fire department member in December, Ommodt said.

The drone can fly to an altitude of 400 feet at a range of 1,200 to 1,400 feet from the controller.

“It may not be used once in a year or it could be used twice in a week. Whatever the situation, it’s there if needed,” he said.

Ommodt, the only paid full-time member of the Footville Fire Department, described the drone as a high-tech tool similar to a thermal imaging camera.

“It’s something that sets us apart from everybody else, and it’s meant to help in the community and around us countywide,” he said.

At least three members of his 28-member volunteer department will be trained to fly the drone, which is registered with the Federal Aviation Administration, Ommodt said.

“We’ve been training with it and taking two to three flights a week around the station getting people used to flying it and knowing how to use the coordinates on the remote and the camera to the best of its ability,” he said.

Each department drone operator will need an unmanned aircraft system certificate to comply with FAA regulations, he said.

In addition to searches, the drone will be used for fire department training and planning. The idea is to fly the drone over structures to look for what would be hazards to firefighters and use that information to create plans of attack that could be pulled out and used in case of fires, Ommodt said.

The drone also will be used for public education and during fire prevention classes.

“The model we’ve got is pretty much top of the line for what we can do. There are professional grade drones that cost over $5,000, but we don’t need something that extreme for what we want to use it for,” he said.

The new technology is something Ommodt and his department is proud of.

“As stuff changes with fire and EMS, we always need to be looking ahead,” he said. “This is just one of those things that fell in our lap, and we’re very excited to use it wherever we’re needed or can be helpful.”

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