EVANSVILLE, IN (WFIE) - Vanderburgh County EMA officials have been flying drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) for about four years.
But EMA officials just found out they were approved for specialized FAA clearances for drones, they started applying for a year ago.
EMA Director Cliff Weaver says the agency is now cleared through the FAA for day and night flying.
Weaver says the ability to fly rescue drones at night, is something not very many agencies across the country have permission to do.
"As far as I know were the first in this part of the country," explains Weaver when trying to explain the rarity of these FAA clearances.
"To be authorized for day and night, is quite a distinction. I know we're the first search team and one of the first agencies in the state, to have this equipment."
Besides the ability to fly at night, the FAA has just zoned two parts of Vanderburgh County as official FAA training zones for UAV flight.
That means, as long as they stay within regulations, Weaver can use drones in that area for training with other first responder agencies.
Currently, Vanderburgh County EMA officials use the drones for training sessions and real emergencies.
Back in September, Weaver flew his rescue drone over a large fire that broke out at Kite Home Center off Morgan Avenue in Evansville.
He was able to use live-video feeds from the drone to help direct firefighters on where the fire was spreading.
The rescue drones have also been used to help search for missing people, tornado damage assessments, field fires, and visuals on flood damage.
Weaver says the ability to fly the rescue drones at night is a unique tool, that can save lives.
" Most of our missions happen at night. That's what I told the FAA. That's why I needed to be able to fly at night, in case we have an emergency pop up. It's something you have to prepare for, but hope you never have to use."
The Vanderburgh County EMA works directly with the Ohio Valley Search and Rescue agency.
The ability to fly the rescue drones at night, will help tremendously with finding missing people.
" When we are called out, it's a life or death scenario," says Tom Bartley, a veteran on the search and rescue squad.
" Time is not on our side. This drone can move fast, and it's accurate. It can clear areas faster than search teams can. That can help eliminate areas we don't have to search. This technology will save someone's life."
The rescue drone also has the capability to take equipment and drop it to a person in the middle of an emergency.
It has the ability to drop a life vest to a person out in a large body of water, drop an emergency kit to a person with injuries, or drop a radio to a person if crews can't communicate with them.
Cliff Weaver can set up live video feeds from the rescue drone camera. Giving first responders clear video of exactly what the drone is seeing.