Drones add aerial combat to fighting wild fires

Drones add aerial combat to fighting wild fires

KILGORE, TX (KLTV) - It's not uncommon to see a drone flying around, but more and more frequently, people are using them for more than just some pretty video.

The Sabine Volunteer Fire Department is now using a drone called S.A.R.A during fires to get a better idea of how to fight them.

S.A.R.A. is an acronym for Sabine Aerial Response Apparatus. Sabine Chief Richard Sisk thinks "drone" can have negative connotations, so he gave it a name since it's almost like having an extra firefighter.

"It's another set of eyes in the air at a low cost, but a high benefit for safety in the fire service," Sisk said.

He only has 17 volunteers at the department.

"Sometimes I only have two. We show up on a grass fire or a call for mutual aid and we do those things, but I can put S.A.R.A. in the air run her up 400 feet and I can see where the head of the fire is at," Sisk revealed.

Sisk says with practice, S.A.R.A. can be deployed in minutes, or less.

"So it's really a great tool for what we call scene size-up," Sisk said.

Which can expedite extinguishing the fire. From the ground, smoke can be so thick it's difficult to tell where the fire is, or which way it's blowing. Firefighters may not choose the best place to fight the fire.

"You're going to make a left, go down and make a right, you can visually walk them in," Sisk said.

Thick brush is always a challenge, as are directions. But with S.A.R.A., equipment and manpower can be guided away from danger.

"It helps by watching the fire and the wind direction and keeping your firefighters out of the area of danger," Sisk stated.

Just a few days before the chief showed the benefits of S.A.R.A. to another department while training in West Texas with the Forest Service. Sisk showed them that:

"It's an amazing tool if used properly," Sisk said.

Sisk says there are many reasons to use drones to aid in fighting fires, but the number one reason is simple.

"We can replace this thing. We can't replace our guys," Sisk added.

Chief Sisk says the Kilgore Fire Department also uses a drone to aid in firefighting, and together they are exploring fixed winged drones which can stay in the air much longer.

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