Drone technology newest tool for Helena firefighters

Posted at 4:50 PM, May 29, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-30 11:49:33-04

HELENA — The Helena Fire Department has recently acquired a piece of equipment that will help give them an eye in the sky while out on calls.

“It’s not a toy. It’s not your run-of-the-mill, you know, consumer drone. This is an industrial piece of equipment,” says Lieutenant Steven Finstad with the Helena Fire Department.

Through the 2020 State Homeland Security Grant Program, the Helena Fire Department acquired the $28,000 drone. This life-saving tool utilizes a camera, a thermal imager, and has a gas radiation meter. The drone also has the capability for a spotlight as well as a drop module which could allow firefighters to drop life-saving materials.

The department plans to use this drone to find individuals stranded on the City’s open lands, for hazardous materials incidents, for analyzing buildings during a fire, and more.

“You know, anything that you might want a bird’s eye view of something we’re gonna have that capability. It does have thermal capabilities so we can see hotspots. We can see people at night," said Finstad. "We hope to use it, you know, a lot.”

Seven different fire department staff have undergone FAA training and licensing. It takes two staff to fully utilize the drone’s capabilities, one for flight and another to control the camera.

The drone has a top speed of around 50 miles per hour and can be up to about nine miles away from the user.

“For the City of Helena, it’s really a force multiplier for us. We’re a small department and this gives us another set of eyes and it really is like another, it’s having another person that can get out there and look for you,” says Finstad.