Search and Rescue North to Buy Thermal Imaging Drone With Climax Grant Funding

By Max R. Smith

Chaffee County Search and Rescue-North will receive funding for an Unmanned Aerial System that can provide high resolution video and thermal imaging to assist the team in locating rescue subjects faster and performing reconnaissance on dangerous, technical terrain.

The drone will be funded through a $25,000 grant from the Freeport-McMoRan Climax-area Community Investment Fund. CCSAR-N is one of 13 nonprofits in the area encompassing Lake, Summit, Chaffee and Eagle counties to receive funding in this grant cycle.

Freeport-McMoRan, the Phoenix, Ariz. based molybdenum and copper producer, which owns the Climax mine in Leadville, announced its grant recipients last week, totaling $300,400 in monetary awards.

CCSAR-N president Erik Rasmussen said the organization sought the UAS on the recommendation of other sister rescue teams in Colorado, and that the drone would enable CCSAR-N to survey much larger areas of terrain much more quickly from the air, locating subjects more quickly and easily and allowing rescuers to plan maneuvers on technical terrain in advance from a bird’s-eye perspective.

CCSAR-N has three members certified with the Federal Aviation Administration to pilot drones, and the team has used their personal drone equipment in the past, Rasmussen said.

The forward-looking infrared system would allow the team to locate temperature hot spots created by human bodies even through dense tree cover.

“It’s definitely a high-tech piece of equipment,” Rasmussen said.

Last year, Chaffee County Search and Rescue North completed the test for accreditation by the Mountain Rescue Association’s Rocky Mountain Chapter by performing a staged avalanche rescue in January.

To pass the test, a SAR crew needs the unanimous approval of a panel of other MRA members who observe the team conduct rescues in staged scenarios testing high angle technical rescue, scree field evacuation, winter rescue and avalanche operations.

Longtime Search and Rescue member James Orlet said the team put in 700 hours of training to get the accreditation.

In training, Orlet said that the team grew the most in their skills with high-angle rescues, which often involve using technical climbing on class five terrain to reach an injured party.

“It gave a whole bunch of people skills they didn’t have before,” Orlet said.

Chaffee County Fire protection also invested in drone technology last year, purchasing a thermal imaging drone and a standard-definition camera drone to use in quickly locating smoke sources – a time-critical process that can take several hours on foot.

This article was originally published in the Chaffee County Times on April 18, 2019.