FAIRFIELD — The response to any potential hazardous material situation in Solano County will soon get new eyes in the sky from local agencies, thanks to members who are currently being trained to become certified drone pilots.
The Solano County Inter-Agency Hazardous Material Team has 18 members currently being readied at a six-day Remote Pilot Drone Academy. They represent the Fairfield, Vacaville, Vallejo and Benicia fire departments, Fairfield police and Solano County sheriff’s deputies.
Members of the group has been having classroom time at the county building in Fairfield and taking flying exercises at both Solano College and in Benicia.
“Basically, it’s been a full 101 training from preflight all the way to advanced flight,” said Josh LaRoe, C-Shift Public Information Officer for the Vacaville Fire Department. “This instruction is so good that every instruction builds on another and you feel comfortable at the next level.”
The training will close over the weekend and into Monday, preparing pilots for FAA certification. Each member will set up their own time to take the final certification exam to earn a drone flying license.
Complimented with the drone and other equipment, the Solano County hazmat team will soon have greater capabilities during emergency response.
Drones will become useful in those emergencies, LaRoe said, sizing up what the situation may entail and preparing members on the ground for what equipment they may need and how they can move forward.
“This will allow us to get eyes on a situation and do reconnaissance,” LaRoe said. “As an example, we can see what is going on with a railcar to see what we are dealing with before sending people down.”
LaRoe said all the members have volunteered for the training and have quickly made progress.
“We’ve learned a lot of information in a short amount of time,” LaRoe said. “We went from not knowing anything about a drone, all the way to flying emergency maneuvers.