NEW PHILADELPHIA — The Tuscarawas County Sheriff's Office now has an eye in the sky when it conducts search-and-rescue operations with the purchase of a Matrice 210 Drone.
The drone and related equipment were purchased with a $28,846 donation from the Doris and Floyd Kimble Foundation.
The drone is equipped with a thermal imagining camera for night searches, a zoom camera and a drop tool.
"The drop tool is a little arm that we can hang something from," said Sheriff Orvis Campbell. "In areas where there is water, they can fly out a life preserver and take it right to the person, or if you had someone fall down into a ravine, you could take a bottle of water and drop it right to them."
The all-weather drone is rated to fly in 58 mph winds.
"We really appreciate the zoom camera," Campbell said. "We can take live surveillance from a mile away of a house we're about to raid if we wanted."
He added, "The drone doesn't do anything fancier than a $700 or $800 drone, except it's bigger, more powerful and designed to be out in the weather."
Personnel in the sheriff's office realized the need for a drone after a young boy went missing last February on Winkler Hill Road in Dover Township in a heavily wooded area. Deputies searched for hours for the boy, and even canines couldn't pick up his track. The boy had gotten cold and curled up under some brush.
After searching for seven hours, deputies called in a Ohio State Highway Patrol helicopter from Columbus. The helicopter crew found the boy with its powerful thermal imaging equipment.
"That helicopter, flat outright, saved his life," Campbell said. "We were nowhere close to finding him. We will still call a helicopter in those settings. This drone will not replace that. What this drone will do is be deployed immediately and it does a lot of the same things."
After the search, purchasing a drone became a priority for the sheriff's office.
Eventually, members of the Kimble family found out about the project and took an interest. The family bought the drone, a controller, the thermal imaging camera, a zoom camera and even paid for the class for deputies to learn how to operate it.
The only thing they didn't pay for was for FAA pilot training to operate the drone. Three deputies have already passed the test for that. Having FAA training is not necessary for law enforcement, but Campbell said he thought it was a best practice to do so.
He noted that the drone is easy to fly.
The drone has already been used to search for missing persons, for general surveillance and to look for marijuana.
While the new drone is an expensive piece of equipment, Campbell said he would be willing to risk it to save a life.
"If it was storming, you can't get a helicopter," he said. "We will fly this in a storm. If it's thundering and lightning and we've got a missing kid, we'll fly it. We'll risk the thirty grand."