Colorado Springs firefighters using drones to help save lives

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) A lot of people use drones for fun, but now some firefighters are using drones to save lives and keep firefighters safe.

"I’ll risk a drone obviously before I risk a life," said A/V Specialist Steve Schopper, who runs the program through the Colorado Springs Fire Department.

11 News got an inside look as firefighters geared up for a training exercise at Garden of the Gods. The crew set up in a parking lot where they had a clear sight of the rescue. By FAA regulations, the pilot must always keep the drone in their line of sight.

Schopper says a birdseye view gives firefighters a different perspective, which can help them find victims faster.

“If we can give our rescue team our GPS coordinates right there, now they know exactly where they’re going, they have GPS, they’ll get to the scene much quicker. And if there’s a severe injury, minutes and seconds mean a lot," he said.

Just recently, Colorado Springs firefighters were at Garden of the Gods for a real rescue. Drone footage obtained by 11 News shows firefighters repelling down the rocks with the victims.

The department uses drones for more than just high angle rescues. They say the relatively new technology is also helpful while searching for missing people in any type of fire.

Colorado Springs Fire Capt. Craig Milroy tells 11 News he was out on a call recently for a structure fire where they used a drone.

“It gave us a look of everything from the top view which we don’t have," Milroy said.

The fire department has been using the drones for about two years, though Schopper says he starting pushing for the program right after the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire.

"Had we had a drone up in the air before that fire started -- when we got that first call for smoke investigation -- we could have pinpointed its exact location and that would have been a showstopper for the Waldo Canyon Fire.”

While it's hard to say what could have been, Schopper says he's confident drones will continue to evolve and help in the future. The pilot even predicts within the next five years being able to launch a drone from the firehouse and go straight to the scene.

"That will beat any of our apparatus because there’s just no traffic to worry about.”

Using drones calls for more hands on deck. CSFD uses volunteers through a community program. If you're interested, click here.