Police drone given high marks in debut

Aircraft helped assess lithium fire


Capturing sights high above a large chemical fire, the new Toledo police drone debuted Thursday to positive reviews from first responders.

Lithium Innovations in Toledo burns as seen with a drone-mounted camera that proved useful in its debut.
Lithium Innovations in Toledo burns as seen with a drone-mounted camera that proved useful in its debut.

An unmanned aerial vehicle provided a unique view and valuable information from the Lithium Innovations blaze in the 1300 block of Campbell Street. Police released photographs and videos Friday depicting flames across the burning roof.

For firefighters, the bird’s-eye perspective was key to assessing the property, department spokesman Pvt. Sterling Rahe said.

“That building was so large, it didn’t matter where you stood, you couldn’t really get a good overall visual of the structure to size it up,” he said.

RELATED ARTICLE: Lithium plant found to be in compliance before fire

Firefighters quickly realized they could not approach with an elevated platform because of potentially hazardous lithium. But interviews with company employees and footage from the drone confirmed the small amount of lithium inside likely had burned off.

At that point, commanders changed strategy to use water on the fire, shortening the amount of time it took to control the blaze.

“The unmanned drone allowed us to put that visual in place without putting any firefighters in danger,” Private Rahe said.

Police previously have said they bought the drone for about $15,000 with private dollars from the department’s Law Enforcement Trust Fund. An officer on scene operated the device.

This was the first official use of the Toledo police drone, which the department has possessed for about a month, police spokesman Lt. Joe Heffernan said.

Lieutenant Heffernan said because authorities believed the large plumes of smoke contained hazardous material, the drone worked perfectly for a flyover. It carried a tool to measure air quality as well.

“They could really pinpoint what sections of the building were burning, and how they were burning,” he said.

The drone also helped police in determining where to place barricades and what to tell nearby homeowners.

Police officials are pleased to use their technology to assist another department and help residents, Lieutenant Heffernan said.

“We’re proud of the cooperation we have with the fire department. That’s a real blessing we have here in the city of Toledo. It’s not that way in every city,” he said.

Contact Ryan Dunn at: rdunn@theblade.com, 419-724-6095, or on Twitter @rdunnblade.