In a remarkable demonstration of teamwork and technological prowess, emergency services in Billings, , combined forces for an effective multi-agency water rescue operation on July 9, 2023. Responding to a distress call from the Yellowstone River, the emergency teams ensured the safe recovery of four individuals trapped in the water with the help of a Chinese-made DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced drone.

Emergency services swiftly arrived at the scene, including the Billings Fire Department, Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office, AMR, and additional fire units. The response was well-orchestrated, taking advantage of each agency's specialized expertise and resources.

At the heart of this rescue mission was a Chinese-made , operated by the Billings Fire Department's drone team. Equipped with an infrared camera, this drone became instrumental in locating the victims amidst the darkness of night.

The rescue mission unfolded in two phases. The first phase saw the swift water rescue team of the Billings Fire Department rescue an individual entangled in a tree in the river around 9:30 p.m. Concurrently, rescue efforts were made to save three other individuals stranded on a river island, which was accomplished by 11:30 p.m.

The Sheriff's Office Rescue Boat, operated and supported by swift water technicians from the Billings Fire Department, braved the challenging waters, successfully securing the safe recovery of the stranded individuals.

This successful operation serves as a potent reminder of the risks associated with water activities. The Billings Fire Department urges the public to take safety precautions, including wearing a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket and informing a trusted person about their plans when engaging in water activities.

The photos below show the difference a thermal camera makes when performing a rescue operation in the dark.

Billings Fire Department expands drone arsenal with grant

The Billings Fire Department recently added the to its arsenal of drones to further expand its aerial capabilities.

Just weeks before the rescue operation, the DJI Matrice 300 drone arrived in Montana, funded by a generous $300,000 grant from State Homeland Security. This grant was shared among the fire departments of six cities – Billings, Bozeman, Kalispell, Great Falls, Helena, and Missoula.

The drone and its equipment, costing roughly $32,000, was part of this allocation. Each of the state's six HAZMAT teams benefited from a $50,000 portion of the grant, which covered the equipment costs and expenses for time and training, resulting in zero cost to the City of Billings.

Billings Fire Department Engineer Mark Solberg praised the drone: “It's a force multiplier for us. We are sometimes resource-limited at big incidents. By using one of these drones, we're able to get a better size-up of what's going on. We can keep track of our people; we can identify needs and respond to them.”

The DJI Matrice 300 offers unique capabilities, including the ability to deliver life jackets, food, and other supplies. It can also operate in a wide range of temperatures, from -4 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and can stay airborne for almost an hour.

Dji Mavic 2 Drone Plays Crucial Role In Yellowstone River Rescue Operation 3

Not only is the DJI Matrice 300 a valuable asset for water rescues, but Solberg also noted, “We're able to use it for . If somebody goes off the rims or gets stuck in the river, we can use the camera to help find them. The thermal features allow us to see hot spots in fires. We can check the stability of roofs on buildings without having to send people into them. It'll help us size-up HAZMAT incidents where we want to keep our people out of harm's way.”

Five fire department officials and seven officers from Billings have successfully earned their Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificates from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

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Haye Kesteloo
Haye Kesteloo

Haye Kesteloo is the Editor in Chief and Founder of, where he covers all drone-related news, DJI rumors and writes drone reviews, and, 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 @ or @hayekesteloo.

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