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Emergency crews in Winnipeg have a new tool that will allow for safer, quicker and more efficient responses to a variety of emergency situations. 

The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service (WFPS) and the city of Winnipeg announced the launch of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Program today, which will give emergency crews a drone they will be able to use during a number of situations. 

FIRE DRONE 1The drone includes a thermal imaging camera that will assist first responders in finding individuals and hot spots in fires as well as identifying structural issues in burning buildings. It will also be used in water rescues, hazardour materials response, fire scene safety assessments, recognnaissance and wildland fire monitoring, according to WFPS Senior Academy Officer Scott Wilkinson. 

"We think this is a groundbreaking piece of technology that will allow us to get a lot of safety improvements," Wilkinson said. "It allows our incident commanders to see a visual they've never seen before as they usually rely on reports from people doing recognnaissance. And the thermal imaging camera gives us a view of deteriorating conditions in a structure and will allow us to pull people out more safely." 

Wilkinson says 16 members of the WFPS will be trained over the coming weeks to operate the drone, which will be done from the scene of an emergency. He says there will be at least four people who are able to operate the drone on each shift, ensuring it will be available 24-7. 

Winnipeg police said on Tuesday that their Air-1 helicopter has been assisting in a similar way with brush fires that have plagued the city over recent weeks. Wilkinson says police help is always appreciated but this will allow them to do that themselves if Air-1 isn't available. 

"We want to be able to provide that guaranteed response that we have with that unit and we can also feed this imagery directly to our incident commanders," Wilkinson said. 

The drone costs just over $40,000 and Wilkinson says it will be the only one the WFPS uses right now. He says if all goes well they may discuss acquiring more drones in the future. 

The city says funding for the program comes from the Innovation Capital Fund. 

Wilkinson says the drone is able to operate in cold weather conditions of up to -20 C and in wind speeds of usp to 40 km/h.