Drones with thermal cameras help Rutherford County first responders in rescues

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RUTHERFORD COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – Thermal cameras flown on drones are saving lives in Rutherford County. First responders located a teenager in the woods over the weekend, a search that could take hours, even days, ended in less than 15 minutes with the advanced technology.

The teen was reported missing in the woods Saturday evening. It was 35 degrees and raining outside.

Rutherford County firefighters put up their Matrice 2.10 drone with an XT2 Thermal camera.

“There’s a function in that camera called iso therms, we can actually set temperature ranges for what we’re looking for. If we’re looking for a person we can say anything from 80 degrees to 100 degrees, and that stuff will glow bright yellow,” said Jeff Clementi, a drone specialist with Rutherford County Fire and the Stormpoint Emergency Response team.

Jeff Clementi, a drone specialist with Rutherford County Fire and the Stormpoint Emergency Response team pictured with the rescue drone and thermal camera

They’ve had this drone for about a year, but the cold temperatures and bare trees this month have helped save two people in the few weeks.

“There’s a huge contrast when you’re looking for a person,” Clementi explained, “Body temperature is so much different than that temperature outside, makes people, deer, anything that’s living a whole lot easier to see on that camera.

“It can actually zoom in 30 times digital and 180 optical zoom,” said another pilot Dallas McLemore with the Rutherford County Fire Department.

But a search still takes a team.

“I’m outside flying, pouring rain, I can see on the monitor, but not very well,” Clementi described flying the drone Saturday night, “I can see what I need to see to fly it, but as far as finding someone, there were people sitting in this trailer watching monitors, as I was flying, I heard over my headset, I think you got something pan left pan left, sure enough… I turned the drone a little bit to the left there was what looked liked a person over there in woods.”

Another important feature with this camera is it’s ability to pick up flashlights…

“An officer that was watching the video footage literally told his deputy to sweep the flash light left and right and told him to stop when he was pointing at where the individual was located,” Clementi said, pointing to the footage of the deputy as he walked through the woods with the flashlight.

From the time the drone went up to the time of rescue was just 13 minutes, a search that used to take hours even days and may not end always end so lucky.

“The technology is there now that every department, without question, should have some sort of aircraft in their fleet,” Clementi added.

The fire department also uses this drone and camera to find hot spots burning inside structure fires.

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