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Grafton Fire Station has eyes in the skies

Emma Pritchard

There is a lot of admiration for the unique piece of equipment Grafton Fire and Rescue 306 Station Captain Garry Reardon holds proudly.

The impressive state-of-the-art remote piloted aircraft system (RPAS), more commonly referred to as a drone, is the latest addition to Grafton Fire Station and will assist in the protection of the Clarence Valley community and help keep the dedicated team members who make that possible, safe as well.

The drones were used during the 2019/2020 bushfire season to assist with firefighting along with damage assessments and salvage operations, and the local fire station is one of just four RPAS certified stations in the state, and the first in the Northern Rivers region.

Local crew members have recently undertaken training sessions to acquire their accreditations to operate the drone and familiarise themselves with its many features and capabilities including infrared and strobe lighting, spotlights, remote speaker command and communication network, handling and flight movements, battery charging and operational devices.

Describing the drone as a real enhancement to Grafton Fire Station, Captain Reardon revealed its features are way above what he expected them to be, and he credits it as a real asset to the local service and the communities they work within.

“The drone provides real time footage of what is occurring and can be used during bushfires, a house fire, hazmat incident or flood,” he said, adding the amazing piece of technology provides the crew with a full 360-degree view of the surrounding area, subsequently allowing them to identify approaching or potential hazards, safety zones, and close-up inspections of difficult to access or remote sites.

It can also return to its operator with the simple pressing of a button.

The drone can fly to a maximum height of 120m and can allow crew members to communicate efficiently with each other over wide areas, a feature which Captain Reardon really loves.

“The drone can be 200m away from me and I can speak into the controller with the push of a button where there is a speaker which enables me to talk to someone hundreds of metres away and they can then give me signals to say they’ve got the message and I think that’s an incredible feature,” he said.

“Effective communication in the field and during operations is essential and to have the equipment which provides that, it’s just so important.

“This drone is still very new to us and they (crew) all think it’s incredible we’ve got this technology to help us to help others.”

The drone comes with six rechargeable batteries, each one with a flight time of 30 minutes, and there are currently six crew members based in Grafton who are authorised to fly it.

To keep their accreditation to operate the drone up to date, crew members must complete daytime and night-time flights every three months and have been given permission to fly the drone at the Grafton Racecourse.

“If people see lights in the sky at night every three months out there, it’s not aliens,” Captain Reardon said with a smile.

“It’ll just be us.”