AMBOY, Ill. (KWQC) — First responders in Lee County are now able to get a bird’s eye view. That is thanks to a grant the Amboy Fire Department went after and received, allowing it to buy a drone. While crews have not had to use it yet, they have been practicing, preparing for any and every emergency.
It may look like a hobby drone your next-door neighbor could fly, but this one is a high-tech tool. “This piece of equipment is actually robotics that flies,” Jeff Gerdes tells us. It is a nearly $13,000 unmanned aerial vehicle, weighing less than a pound, able to hover more than a thousand feet up, and equipped with three cameras to give crews on the ground a very different, yet very necessary perspective.
“A forward view, a 45-degree angle and a straight downward view,” Gerdes says, “As well as a thermal imager.” He operate the drone with his nephew, Lt. Garrett Gerdes. The two have been practicing with for weeks, prepping for search and rescue situations, picking up heat signatures of people or things too far away to see.
“You can identify the neighbor’s dog or someone walking down the street,” Jeff Gerdes tells us. “Vehicles that are sitting parked, but you can see the engine and the hood and everything is glowing cuz the vehicle just had been run.”
The two say the drone can also make a big difference in a fire fight, giving crews visual access. Lt. Garrett Gerdes tells us, “Large brush fires, you know with the smoke and things like that, from ground level you can’t always tell the extent of the fire or buildings that could be in danger behind what you can see.”
This lets them see it all unfold on a screen, just like a movie. And while firefighters are the ones operating the drone, the Fire Chief says the equipment will be shared with local law enforcement.
Amboy Police Chief Jeff Blake tells us, “Calling in the aircraft will provide us with a better aerial coverage quicker than what it would for us to bring that human resource in.” He says he sees the UAV having the biggest impact when it comes to finding missing people. A department with four full-time officers can be stretched really thin searching a cornfield or other rural area.
“It gives us a completely different perspective,” Blake says. “When you’re looking at it at eye level in a normal situation, this gives us an almost a 360 degree view of what we’re dealing with; the type of terrain, any obstacles, any hidden places a child may be.” Potentially giving a better outcome faster.
The grant that paid for the drone came from the CHS Foundation, and the Fire Chief says reps there made it financially possible to add in the thermal imager.
The Police Chief tells us there are specific statutes in place as to when law enforcement can use the aerial vehicles, and crews are abiding by those.