When fire crews were called to tame an inferno at a marina in eastern Henrico County that set boats afire Dec. 9, a drone hovered overhead, spotting what the human eye, alone, could not.

From above the James River, an aerial video was live-streamed to county Fire Chief Tony McDowell in his office and at the command post, conveying the location of hot spots, fuel spills and the location of boats that had become unmoored.

“It was a good, real-time aid,” McDowell said during a Henrico Board of Supervisors work session Tuesday.

The unmanned aircraft used during the fire was borrowed from York County, but its use telegraphed what could soon become more common in Henrico — the county received a $58,764 federal grant for its own stable of drones that the fire department could employ come early summer.

The drones would help survey fires, or be deployed during search and rescue missions and hazardous materials incidents, providing information and damage assessments to teams as they respond to an emergency.

In just minutes, the images would convey information that would otherwise take hours to gather, and involve a few people rather than entire engine companies, fire Lt. Michael Roth said during a presentation to county supervisors Tuesday.

Read More