Firefighters use new drone to train for river rescues

By  | 

RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - Firefighters with the Truckee Meadows Wet Team spent the morning on the Truckee River near Mayberry Park. It's a different river than they've seen in past years.

"The Truckee River is running approximately three times the normal volume that it has in years past during this time," said Captain Derek Reid with Truckee Meadows Fire. "The water is running very fast and very cold and a victim can succumb to hypothermia very quickly."

This year they have a new tool to help them keep an eye on the water. The department has a drone and several FAA-certified firefighters to fly it. It could be a big help when it comes to river rescues this summer.

"The river flows are eight or nine miles an hour in some places so you can imagine how far downstream someone can go," said Truckee Meadows Battalion Chief Mike Heikka. "There's a lot of willows and things that you can get trapped in and where we would have difficulty seeing you from the shore. If we're out in the middle of the river with a drone we may be able to pick that person out, find them quickly and be able to get rescue swimmers in there."

Video and still pictures from the drone are relayed back to the command post in real time. This technology can be helpful in all kinds of scenarios.

"We can use it in small wildland fires if we don't have any aircraft in the way, we'll be able to assist there, search and rescue, incidents where we can't get somebody out there quickly, we can get a drone in the air without putting people in harms way," Heikka said.

These firefighters are getting used to a river that's running fast and cold.

"We're getting familiar with what the water feels like as far as the current, the power that the river is flowing at because there's really no easy way out of this river," Reid said. "There's very few eddy lines where somebody can self-rescue so when you're in the river you may be in there awhile until you find a safe exit point. It's something that doesn't look that dangerous that can be very hazardous."

And they're reminding those that will be near the water this summer to be careful.

"Make sure you understand your knowledge, your experience and your limitations and that you wear a Coast Guard-approved life vest," Reid said. "If you're a boater wear a helmet and thermal protection under your dry suit or splash jacket and always tell somebody where you're going and when you're going to be back."