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East Great Plain Volunteer Fire Department in Norwich receives donated drone

Norwich — Pretty soon, it won’t just be firetrucks, rescue trucks and ground-based vehicles responding to fires and major incidents throughout the city, as the East Great Plain Volunteer Fire Department received a donation of a new drone Monday.

The drone and its lights were donated by Autel Robotics and FoxFury Lighting to the National Public Safety Drone Donation Program, which then donated the equipment to the fire department. 

The program has donated 22 drones to fire and police departments and search and rescue groups across the country, said Marc Langley, who founded the program. In Connecticut, the first drone was donated to West Hartford, and the third will be provided soon to West Haven, he said.

East Great Plain Fire Chief Keith Milton said he heard about the donation program through an email from the Connecticut Fire Academy and applied for a drone in November 2018. Milton said the drone, equipped with lights for night work, will be helpful in responding to brush fires, to give views of portions of buildings firefighters might have difficulty accessing, to assist with search and rescue incidents and for water-based incidents in Norwich Harbor or local rivers.

Although the donation was made to East Great Plain, the drone will be available to any of the city's fire departments, as well as police, Milton said.

EGP Assistant Fire Chief Joseph Jackson and firefighter Matthew Madore already have their Federal Aviation Administration drone pilot licenses, and they will help train other department members, Milton said.

“We will reach out to other departments to see if they want to be trained on using it,” Milton said.

“If it saves one injury,” Langley said during Monday’s presentation, “then it pays for itself. And we hope it brings value to your department.”

Following the donation Monday, Jackson and Madore closed in on the table, where Langley had removed the drone from the box and explained its features.

“It still has that new-drone smell,” Langley quipped, as he worked the lighting attachment. The lights are visible for 3 nautical miles at night, Langley said.

Milton said much needs to be done before the drone can be deployed in response to incidents. The department will need approvals from the FAA to use the drone, especially within the no-fly zone around the Backus Hospital where the Lifestar helicopter is stationed.

Milton said he is looking for a large open field or area for the training, perhaps at Three Rivers Community College or the Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium, and he will start applying for the necessary permits. The department might purchase some “cheaper” drones for trainees to use for practice.

“If we’re going to have a crash, let it be with one of those,” Milton said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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