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Taking search and rescue to new heights: First responders get drone certified

Posted at 6:19 PM, Feb 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-19 21:51:31-05

ST PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Taking search and rescue to new heights! St. Petersburg College is partnering with Tampa Bay Fire and Police Departments to get first responders trained on drones.

Matthew Misner flew a drone for the very first time Monday. As a police officer in training, he knows this tool could change the course of his career. “It would help us get eyes above the sky in places that are hard to see from the ground level," Misner explained.

St. Pete College is lifting off a new program where they will partner with our local fire and police departments to get them drone certified, teach them about Florida statutes regarding drones and give firefighters and police officers hours of experience flying the drones.

Across the county, drones are being used to look for suspects, find people trapped in fiery buildings, and search miles for missing people.

"There would have to be many officers to do the same work these drones can do in moments," explained Willis Reese, who has a background in law enforcement and now works at St. Pete College as an adjunct drone instructor.

In Tampa Bay, only a handful of first responders are using drones.The Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, St. Petersburg Police Department, Clearwater Police Department, and Madeira Beach Fire Department all have drones, but many other law and fire agencies tell us they’re not using them.

“Our goal with this new program is to let them know this technology is out there and if you’re not using it, you’re going to be left behind," Paul Andrews, of St. Pete College's Public Safety Academy explained.

St. Pete College wants to make getting drone certification easier for the men and women we depend on when seconds count. Drones are being used to find hot spots in a fire, use thermal imaging to find a suspect at night and even deliver something like a life jacket—within moments.

Florida law prohibits law enforcement from using drones to collect evidence, but in emergencies, they’re fair game. 

For Misner, it means not only getting to you faster, but getting home to his family, too.

“We can fly over, see what the problem is, come up with a tactical plan and get home safe to our family and friends," he added. 

The drone program for first responders will kick off April. A link to the registration can be found here

Agencies and potential students with questions about the course can contact either Paul Roach at 727-341-4611 or Fred Tucker at 727-791-2409.