Pennsylvania Fire Department Joins Drone Emergency Response Team

Emergency responders in New Berlin, have combined their resources to offer drone and unmanned services to other agencies when needed. The response team operates as if they were responding with a fire truck.

Four emergency service providers from Northcentral Pennsylvania have come together to offer these services in the state.

The four Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) organizations include New Berlin Fire Department in Union County, DuBoistown Fire and EMS in Lycoming County, North Central Pennsylvania Unmanned Emergency Services in Tioga County, and Laporte Volunteer Fire Department in Sullivan County.

They have named themselves the Northcentral ROVER (Remotely Operated Vehicles For Emergency Response) Task Force for Snyder, Northumberland, Union, Lycoming, and Tioga counties.

“The main goal is to help the public, and to help them see the value in this equipment,” explained New Berlin Fire Department Chief Pilot and UAS Program Manager Kale Geiswite. “It allows the seamless capability to respond across multiple different counties.”

Municipalities in need of during emergencies can make requests through their county 911 center, according to Geiswite. The task force's rapid response can sometimes mean the difference between life and death, such as when a can quickly locate a missing person.

Geiswite added, “It's much faster and less manpower. Much faster equates to lives saved. It can give a broad perspective to incident commanders, give them more information to make better tactical decisions.”

The four departments can collaborate while retaining their distinct identities, with the main advantage being their ability to provide aerial support to any department in need.

The Northcentral PA ROVER logo was created by Faylee Showers, an advertising art and design student at SUN Area Technical Institute in New Berlin, according to Geiswite.

New Berlin's UAS drone program began in 2021 with four pilots and six team members after completing extensive paperwork and training with the Federal Aviation Administration and National Fire Protection Association on licensing and risk management. They secured full support from the Central 911 dispatch center and the county emergency management team, Geiswite said.

Thanks to donations from various organizations, New Berlin obtained enough funding to launch the program.

Their current fleet includes a response trailer, and drones with thermal imaging, scene lighting from above, loudspeaker communications, and screen casting capabilities for larger devices used by incident commanders and law enforcement personnel.

Geiswite shared, “This technology was most recently used to assist the State with overwatch on an emergency scene minimizing risk to at the scene and providing enhanced situational awareness. Our goal is to update and grow our program, educate other agencies on how we can assist them and provide community on proper drone use, laws, and demonstrations to enhance public and understanding of this technology.”

The other participating departments have also developed their own drone programs, with unique capabilities and resources. These programs have been used in various operations, such as locating missing individuals, assisting law enforcement in tracking down fugitives, and providing situational awareness during emergencies.

Daniel Morrison, Laporte Volunteer Fire Chief and Chief Pilot, shared that their station's drone program commenced in 2020.

“Since initiating our drone team, we've been visiting counties like Lycoming, Bradford, Columbia, and Tioga to support fire departments, PA State Police, and other agencies requiring our help. Our crew comprises four Part-107 pilots and six support staff, totaling 10 responders to assist in operations, logistics, mapping, and aircraft spotting,” Morrison explained.

Initially, the program began with a modest drone, donated by the National Public Safety Drone Donation Program. Within six months, they upgraded to a DJI Mavic Dual Enterprise featuring thermal capabilities, according to Morrison.

Morrison stated, “Over the past two years, we've been utilizing the Mavic to help find missing persons and support the PA State Police in tracking down wanted criminals.” He went on to describe a recent successful mission: “We assisted law enforcement in locating a fleeing suspect in a densely forested area. After launching the Mavic aircraft, we pinpointed the fugitive's position within 10 minutes and hovered to monitor the situation until officers arrived and apprehended the individual.”

In March 2023, the team acquired the new DJI Matrice 30T through donations to their program. Morrison shared that pilot training with the upgraded system is already underway, and they expect to have the new aircraft operational soon.


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Haye Kesteloo
Haye Kesteloo

Haye Kesteloo is the Editor in Chief and Founder of DroneXL.co, where he covers all drone-related news, DJI rumors and writes drone reviews, and EVXL.co, for all news related to electric vehicles. He is also a co-host of the PiXL Drone Show on YouTube and other podcast platforms. Haye can be reached at haye @ dronexl.co or @hayekesteloo.

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