Owners of FireFlight Unmanned Aircraft Systems, based in Oklahoma City, delivered three aircraft to the Possum Kingdom East Volunteer Fire Department last month.
The aircraft included one with a video camera, one with a forward looking infrared camera and a trainer.
Ronnie Ranft, PK East VFD chief, said he believes the system will be very beneficial.
“We already know the value of having air resources from Texas Forest Service for locations of fires, potential dangers and where a fire is headed,” he said. “In having an unmanned aircraft, it would greatly enhance our ability to contain a wildfire by aiding in our evaluation of a fire.”
That aid would not only enhance determining a fire’s location and direction of travel but also help identify locations that might need to be evacuated as well as determining possible equipment requirements for any given area.
“It will give us a different perspective on terrain,” Ranft added.
“It will help us guide vehicles in and out of areas that may be unfamiliar to us.”
Ranft recalled an incident in 1996 in which a firefighter was caught in a blaze. Had he not been wearing protective gear, he would have likely perished.
“We’re hoping to avoid situations like that,” he continued.
Also, calls regarding smoke seen by the public — either from possible lightning strikes, controlled burns or other causes — can be investigated with the aircraft.
“Lightning strikes in rural areas we’re not familiar with, it will help us determine locations and routes to and from,” Ranft said.
The fire chief said the department has been in contact with the Federal Aviation Administration, Brazos River Authority and other agencies regarding the aircraft.
“There are a lot of potential uses, but not until we become more familiar with the operations of the aircraft,” he said.