Inland Empire

Firefighters Use Drone to Catch Illegal Fireworks

The night of the 4th, firefighters launched the drone and sent it into neighborhoods that were calling in reports of illegal fireworks to find them

The Rialto Fire and Police departments took to the skies to fight illegal fireworks this Fourth of July. This year they added a drone to their effort to stop illegal displays.

Firefighter Ryan Cathy was the pilot. He said the anti-fireworks taskforce decided to use the drone as an experiment.

"We wanted to use it as a test to see how it would work," Cathy said. "[Illegal fireworks] are a big problem for us here."

The night of July Fourth, they launched the drone and sent it into neighborhoods that were calling in reports of illegal fireworks. Cathy navigated the drone, looking for the source of the illegal launches.

"I tried to fly it over the rooftops to stay away from the aerials," he said. "Usually they launch them from the street or the backyard."

Cathy pinpointed locations for the fireworks and let the ground crews know where to go.

The operation was not without its limitations — the drone could only stay in the air for 28 minutes before it needed to recharge.

"I launched it about five times that night," Cathy said. "We only have one [drone] so our resources were taxed pretty quickly."

The Rialto Fire Department is hoping to obtain five more drones, Cathy said. They're also applying for an exemption from the FAA so that more firefighters can become certified drone pilots.

This Fourth of July, Rialto firefighters confiscated more than 500 packages of illegal fireworks weighing more than 1,000 pounds altogether, the department said. Firefighters and police wrote more than 80 citations for illegal fireworks, a 400 percent increase from 2014, when they started issuing citations.

With more resources, Cathy said they plan to use the drone for active shooter situations and fires.

"We would use the drone to take a shot of a fire from above," he said, "to see where the air conditioning units are, where the windows are and where the flames are, so firefighters can go in knowing more about the situation."

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