A drone is being used to help first responders in eastern Ontario deal with situations in which someone's life might be at risk, including a recent triple homicide in the town of Wilno, Ont.

Michael Nolan, chief of the Renfrew County Paramedic Service, said he recently hired a consultant who operated an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan.

That man, James Power, now operates the UAV, commonly called a drone, in Renfrew County to improve the safety of the community and first responders, Nolan said.

"James has the ability to fly a drone into a motor-vehicle collision and identify the chemicals or contaminants in a transport truck that's flipped over on the highway," Nolan told Robyn Bresnahan, host of CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

"He's able to, quite literally, look around the corner if there's a bad guy and work with police on the forward line to identify hazards before we put first responders in precarious situations."

Nolan, who also spoke about the drone at the Securetech Tradeshow & Conference in Ottawa on Thursday, said the vehicle cost less than $2,000.

The new tool can also be used to:

  • Confirm whether someone fell through the ice.
  • Bring a defibrillator to people in cardiac arrest.
  • Help firefighters find a hot spot during wildfires.
  • Respond to traffic collisions.
  • Help during active crime scenes.

Drone used in Wilno triple homicide

The drone was recently used as first responders dealt with active crime scenes following a triple homicide in Wilno, Ont. It helped ensure there was no movement in bushes or adjacent fields or properties, Nolan said.

"[It was] to give greater sense of confidence, greater situational awareness to the responders while they're responding. It's not just having an eye in the sky, it's about having command be able to see what's going on as the first responders are approaching a tragic, but also very difficult situation," he explained.

"You realize that somebody's got your back and they have an ability to adjust things around you to make your job easier, make your job safer." - Michael Nolan, Renfrew County Paramedic Chief

The Renfrew County Paramedic Service has a Special Flight Operations Certificate from Transport Canada that details where and when it can use the drone, described as the size of a large seagull.

Nolan said response times aren't slowed by the unmanned vehicle. He said the paramedics came up with the idea after becoming frustrated trying to cover so much ground in a rural area. First responders can extend their reach and feel more comfortable, he added.

"You realize that somebody's got your back and they have an ability to adjust things around you to make your job easier, make your job safer, give you the ability to achieve your task at hand. The relief that comes with that is enormous," Nolan said.

The interest in a drone for first responders has also piqued the curiosity of the European Congress on Paramedic Service, which recently invited Nolan to speak about how he uses the new technology.