CHICO – The Chico Fire Department has acquired some new equipment in recent years that allow for rescue and more timely emergency response to fires.
On May 29, the fire department used its UTV-5 off-road utility vehicle to rescue a mountain biker who had fallen off the road; And the department used a drone with a live camera to monitor the rescue from afar.
Battalion Chief Wes Metroka said the equipment helps the department approach situations safely and can even improve response times in the case of their UTVs.
“It’s been very successful for us, because by that point we’d have to actually drive a firetruck down Upper Park Road and then park on a gravel road and wherever one might be. Now we’re going to cross the country with UTVs.” and can get really close, if not sooner, than anyone else – and that’s the whole goal.”
Metroca said the rescue was relatively quick as the mountain biker was loaded into medical transport within an hour of dispatch.
The fire department’s UTV-5 seats four people and is capable of traversing most terrain, including the rocky and sloping surfaces of Upper Bidwell Park. This Stokes Basket is equipped with a set of rescue equipment including a rescue litter that can be lowered into difficult terrain.
“We would drive that UTV vehicle up the North Rim Trail, and we could actually load a patient onto the Stokes basket on the vehicle and bring them back down,” Metroca said. “In other situations we may have to bring in a helicopter to take them out and fly them, which is even more dangerous.”
The second tool used in Sunday’s rescue is a video-equipped training drone, which Metroca said is capable of sending a live video feed to an incident commander.
“The drone was kept as an overhead view and to confirm the patient’s location and the progress of our personnel working at the scene,” Metroca said. “Event Ordering is able to use this to see what’s happening in real time and it gives them an idea of where we are and how long it will be until they come out.”
Metroca said the fire department also has a larger drone called Matrix equipped with infrared camera capabilities. It is capable of detecting wildfires and locating people for rescue during the night or in hard to reach areas such as lakes or waterways.
“We’ve used it in the park for people who are lost which works really well because we can see through the screen as if it’s almost daylight,” Metroca said. “If we have fire that we can’t find, we can put the drone up and pick up the heat signature with infrared.”
The drone also has the ability to accept GPS coordinates and fly over the location for an overview. Metroca said it happened during Sunday’s rescue when the Chico Police Department called for assistance.
“It’s just another tool for us to quickly access something – whether it’s a person or a fire,” Metroca said.
Chico paid $31,350 for the fire department’s UTV-5, which includes its emergency equipment and radio; $1,000 for training drones and $20,000 for matrix drones with infrared cameras, according to Chico Fire Chief Steve Standridge.