Janesville Fire Department to use drones to assist in commercial building fires

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The Janesville Fire Department is employing a new tactic — aerial drones — to assist them during commercial building fires in the city.

The drones will collect aerial images of commercial structures within the city for pre-planned responses to fires.

“We saw a real need in the market around the deficiencies for gathering information about commercial structure [fires],” said Jason Marvel, CEO of Flow MSP. “I think less than 11 percent of all commercial structures have a pre-plan attached to them.”

Fire officials tested the drones for the first time on Tuesday.

Utilizing cloud-based software, the images they take will be saved so they can be accessed at a moment’s notice by emergency responders to give firefighters potentially life-saving data when they need it the most.

“We’ll be able to identify utilities so, if we have an incident where we need to shut off power or gas, we will be able to identify that,” said Sue North, Janesville Fire Marshall. “The program will interface with our computer-aided dispatch, through Rock County 911.”

The program cost the City of Janesville $2,000 a year. The drones can fly at 400 feet. Fire officials say the cost of the program, versus the potential costs in building losses, made the new technology easy to bring in.

“We can send the aerial asset out – the UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) out upwards of a quarter of a mile to gather this visual intelligence, so, typically, we can gather a number of images from structures standing in one spot,” Marvel said.

Janesville Fire will officially begin using the drones next week. Fire personnel operating the unmanned aircraft will be carrying a letter of authorization from the Fire Chief.

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