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Roanoke County first responders use drones to improve rescue efforts

Two drones based at stations in Masons Cove, Cave Spring

ROANOKE, Va. – Roanoke County first responders now have eyes in the sky.

Fire and rescue crews recently started using two new drones to help crews respond to incidents more effectively and efficiently.

"We're going to be using them to give us an advantage on certain incidents such as search and rescue missions, brush fires, large scale incidents and disasters, flooding," Lt. Christopher Lacy said.

So far, the drones have been used to provide a bird’s-eye view during fires in March and April.

"It gave us an immediate view of the fire, the entire perimeter of it and be able to see the status of what our crews were doing. We were able to see beyond what was visible at the command post and that gave us a real time view of the conditions that supplemented what the crews on the ground were telling us," Lacy said.

On Tuesday, 10 News got a closer look at the drones, based at stations in Masons Cove and Cave Spring.

Paramedics turned pilots showed how they're quickly able to get clearance to fly, then send the drone to a specific location. They flew it to a nearby trail on Catawba Mountain to demonstrate how they can use the technology to locate a lost hiker.

"That will definitely decrease the amount of time it takes us to respond to an incident," Lacy said.

"If we save one life, if we help find one person that's lost, it makes everything worth it," paramedic and firefighter Justin Ratcliff said.

Roanoke County currently has five certified pilots. They're working to get more people trained so they can have a pilot on each shift.