Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire uses drones for missing children, water rescue calls

MURRELLS INLET, SC (WBTW) – Over the weekend, the Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire District used an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), better known as a drone, to help find a missing child.

“We were given a large span to cover,” said Captain Jerry Howerton. “We were able to cover it without any kind of issues. We set up a grid search with the drone.”

The boy walked from Seaside Elementary School to Glenns Bay Road Friday afternoon.

“We had six guys going through the woods trying to trample through a lot of brush to find him,” said Capt. Howerton.

The boy was found safe with the help of the Horry County Police Department.

“We had a lot of folks close by the child as he was getting picked up and they could hear us right over him so we were picking up on him pretty quick,” added Capt. Howerton.

The Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire District has a second drone used primarily for water rescues.

“The other aircraft we have has the payload capacity where we can drop objects. We have a couple floatation devices, we can drop two-way radios, bottled water to stranded vessels, swimmers in distress, things of that nature,” said Capt. Howerton.

Another feature they’re working on is adding smoke flairs to the bottom of the drone.

“If we get overtop of someone who’s in distress we can pop the smoke and it gives us about a 20-foot column of smoke underneath,” added Capt. Howerton. “That way all of our resources can narrow in on them.”

The technology is helping the department get a new perspective on emergency calls when seconds matter.

“It helps us get there quick, identify the issue quick and get all of our resources to them timely,” added Capt. Howerton.

The department is looking to purchase a third drone which would have thermal imaging.

“We will be able to pick up body heat signatures even at night time with it, so we’re really looking forward to that,” said Capt. Howerton. “It will also be able to give us another point of view on house fires and brush fires so we can find source of heat or extension of heat and be able to either track out our brush fires or be able to put a 360-degree view on house fires.”

Capt. Howerton hopes to get the drone within six to eight months and is confident the airborne tools will save lives.