A local team pioneers the use of drone technology for public safety

YORK COUNTY, Va. (WAVY) – Firefighting and law enforcement can be dangerous jobs, but more and more in recent years, ground crews are receiving help from en high.

In York County, a small fleet of drones assist with surveillance, rescue, night searches, and even HAZMAT situations.

“We started around February and March 2016,” said Deputy Fire Chief Chris Sadler. “There weren’t many public safety agencies in the country that were even considering the use of drones.”

So Sadler and his team of two drones and a deputy were to become, as he likes to call it, the tip of the spear.

“Look at where we are now, what we’re doing with drones,” Sadler said. “Avoiding having to endanger a firefighter or law enforcement officer is remarkable. ”

Today, the joint York County Sheriff’s Office and Fire Department team operate a trailer full of drones with a variety of uses: there are small drones that can fly indoors, Larger drones that can drop equipment and drones with infrared cameras.

“We have reasons for drones exclusively for fire reasons and exclusively for law enforcement reasons and being a team together we can use the team fire / EMS personnel for reasons of ‘law enforcement, piloting the drone and having different missions like that, and the same can be said for a fire scene, law enforcement can help them, so it’s a great partnership ”, said Sergeant Brandon Williams, of the York County Sheriff’s Office.

When the roof of Thomas Nelson Community College collapsed earlier this year, no one had to take on the risky task of assessing the damage and investigating the cause.

“We were able to get one of our drones and fly over and inside the building and fly to a lot of areas that you had to see,” Sadler said.

As in this situation in Hampton, communities across the Commonwealth can call on the York County Drone Team, which is a state asset and largely funded by state and federal grants, Sadler said.

The team is, however, known far beyond the borders of Virginia.

“I teach across the country, give presentations on public safety. I’ve been to California, Colorado, Texas, Boston, Chicago, ”Sadler said. “It is because of what we have done in the county and what we have learned that we are able to help other entities across the country.”

As Sadler prepares to retire, he is confident that what he has built will continue to soar.

“Everything I do, I want it to be done the best that I can,” he said. “It’s tweaking a lot of what we do to make ourselves even better.”