A black-and-white image shows what the thermal imaging camera can see as the drone hovers over the fire station.
A black-and-white image shows what the thermal imaging camera can see as the drone hovers over the fire station.

   On Jan. 8, the report came in: An explosion had occurred at Signature Wafer in Ripon.

   Firefighters responded immediately. But, how big was the fire inside the industrial complex?

   No one knew for sure, and even the great reach of the ladder truck wouldn’t allow firefighters to see over some rooftop heating units.

   That’s when emergency responders pulled out their newest tool: an unmanned aerial vehicle, commonly referred to as a “drone.”

   “We used it ... [and] we didn’t pick up any heat [so] we immediately knew that we didn’t have any fire past [a certain] point on the roof,” Ripon Area Fire District (RAFD) Chief Tim Saul said.

   Moments such as this are exactly why Saul believes the drone will be invaluable in the future for helping both firefighters and police officers do their jobs.

   “It’s making our jobs safer,” Saul said, noting that “We’re the first fire department in Fond du Lac County to have a drone program, and there’s no fire department in Green Lake County to have a drone program ... I think you’ll see more fire departments start their own drone program.”

   Both the RAFD and the Ripon Police Department have been considering the use of drones for a while now.

   “We first got in contact with [local drone business owner] Steve Davis when we had an incident in town,” Ripon Police Chief Bill Wallner said of a missing person search from November 2016. “He dropped everything and helped us with the use of his private drone, in that case. That got the wheels turning for us about the applicability of that tool [for police work].”

   It was about that time the Saul, too, began considering the need for a drone for his department.

Read the full story, including how the departments can benefit from using the drone, in the Feb. 1, 2018 edition of the Ripon Commonwealth Press.