Drone's eye in the sky added to emergency responder tools

Emergency personnel in Fairfield County have launched a new tool in their arsenal -- an unmanned drone.

Members of the Fairfield County Hazardous Incident Response Team got a demonstration and started training in using the drone Friday at Fairfield's Fire Training Center.

"It's such an exciting tool, to use technology like this is really going to revolutionize the information we're getting," Fairfield Deputy Fire Chief Kyran Dunn said.

The drone, which cost about $1,300, was purchased with funds donated by the Fairfield Road Races, a non-profit group that manages the Faxon Law Group Half-Marathon and the Fairfield 5K here each summer. Race director Steve Lobdell is a retired Fairfield firefighter.

The regional response team is made up of firefighters and law-enforcement personnel, Fairfield Assistant Fire Chief Erik Kalapir said, and assists at emergencies like hazardous material spills, missing persons and fires.

"We've been looking at the technology for a while," Kalapir said, and contracted with DART Drones to buy the Phantom 2 Vision Plus, which has video and photo capability.

Eight members of the 15-member communication unit will be trained in use of the drone.

"It will be limited to outdoor operations," Kalapir said, and will allow responders to see up-close video of an incident before deploying personnel. For example, he said, if there were a tanker spill, the drone can tell the incident commander what the tanker contains, how large the leak is and if there are any people down at the scene. At a fire, "We can get this up 200 to 300 feet quickly, and see what the fire is doing to the building."

Chris Costello, from DART Drones, was on hand to start training the emergency responders.

"It takes practice," he said. "We do an `over the shoulder training.' When you're spending $1,000 or more, you want to make sure your first experience isn't a crash."

The team members, Costello said, will also receive instruction on Federal Aviation Administration regulations for drones.

"As a retired firefighter, I thought it was important we were able to give back to the community," Lobdell said.

Lobdell said he saw an article in the New York Times on this particular drone, and did research before he broached the idea.

"I think it's great," he said.

The drone will be housed in the team's field communications unit; the team is based in Westport.

"It's an asset of the regional response team," Kalapir said.