LUBBOCK, Texas – The Lubbock Fire Rescue (LFR) sent its first drone up into the sky back in 2017. Since then, its used the device while responding to numerous calls throughout the city. 

“We’re always looking to make our job a little better, and hopefully a little safer,” said Blake “Lumpy” Ball, an LFR firefighter. “We look at technology, and that’s one technology that we’ve been able to take advantage of.”

Ball said LFR’s fleet of drones takes his crew to new heights.

“Before, you’d pull up to a scene and you’d see the one side of the structure that you’re facing, and you’d have to do a 360-degree walkaround which takes time,” Ball said. “With the drones, you can get them up in the air, and you have that constant overview of the entire scene that gives you that one extra tool.”

LFR has used drone technology in missions this year such as the crane fire on the Marsha Sharp Freeway on April 18, the two-alarm fire at Shearer’s Foods on May 15 and the tornado that touched down in Matador on June 21. The department said it uses drone footage taken before and after incidents for investigative and training purposes. 

The specialized drones serve as an essential ‘eye in the sky.’ Derek Delgado, a spokesperson for LFR estimated each device costs upwards of $4,000.

“They may be able to determine what other resources they may need, or give them some other aspects of the incident that they wouldn’t otherwise see on the scene,” said Delgado. “We can see an aerial view of what’s going on and what exactly is burning.”

Delgado said not even billowing smoke can stop a drone.

“We can also add the infrared thermal imaging aspect of the camera, so then we can pick up on those heat signatures of where exactly the fire is located or where it’s possibly going to spread,” Delgado said.

Ball said the ability to see the condition of a roof without having to send firefighters to the top of one is a huge advantage.

“Not too long ago, a captain of mine had a near miss,” Ball said. “We got on a roof and we didn’t understand where the fire was at the time and he had a close call. He almost went through the roof. With the drone technology, we can get that drone up there. With the thermal imaging, we can get those hotspots. We know exactly where to be. We can tell people if they need to be on the roof or avoid an area. The drone has it taken care of. It’s the pre-warning.”

In addition to keeping first responders out of harm’s way, the drone’s thermal technology can also save people and animals stuck on what could be the worst day of their lives.

“The efforts that we use this technology is the extra service that we can provide to victims and the public,” Ball said. “It’s one more thing that we’ve taken on because we see the benefits of it.”

All drone pilots must pass an exam to get certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. LFR currently has nine approved pilots on its crew of over 400. LFR said it always has a few of its pilots on call 24/7 to make sure that, if needed, they’re able to get a drone airborne as soon as possible.