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Drone donated to Ripon Consolidated Fire District
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The Ripon Consolidated Fire District now has a drone to help with rescues along the Stanislaus River as well as to aid in combatting vegetation fires.
Ripon resident Harrison Gibbs donated a professional $2,300 “Inspire One” drone for the Ripon Consolidated Fire District.
Gibbs presented the drone to Ripon Fire Chief Dennis Bitters Monday afternoon at the department’s headquarters. Gibbs said he is in the process of seeking donations for a second camera – with infrared heat-seeking capabilities – at an additional cost of some $6,000.
Gibbs asked his fellow Rotarians to contribute to the second camera at last Wednesday’s regular meeting at Spring Creek Country Club and was immediately pledged $500 toward defraying the cost of the additional infrared camera.  Gibbs, a member of the fire board of directors, said he is going to continue to  solicit fund.
 “We have been developing the capability for quite some time,” Bitters said.  “The district first started using the UAV technology several years ago for visual inspection of its radio towers and antennas.  It was quickly recognized that there are other potential areas where the technology could be used, primarily for fire size-up, mapping, as well as Search and Rescue.”
The chief noted that over recent years the technology has become more advanced and less expensive. He added that some firefighters have purchased their own drones and will bring their new knowledge and experience to the RCFD program.
Bitters mentioned the promise that exists in the new technology to Gibbs following a recent fire board meeting. Gibbs took it from there by buying a camera himself for the department that mostly encompasses the area of the Ripon Unified School District’s boundaries.
Bitters recognized the “generous donation” from his board member that will allow for a larger flying payload with the ability to easily change from conventional still/video to a thermal imaging (infrared) camera system.
The chief said his primary target area for the UAV use is in the areas along the river in Ripon’s jurisdiction.  One goal is to be able to quickly deploy a drone above the scene of vegetation fires along the Stanislaus River and then stream high resolution images, both still and video, back to the command post which will then aid in safe and effective size-up and tracking of the progress of a fire. 
“These images will also improve the effective planning for strategy and tactics,” Bitters said. 
The fire department’s Search and Rescue response is expected to benefit from the aerial camera as well with many requests each year to search for lost or overdue rafters on the river. 
“Currently this results in deploying our personnel and rescue boats into the river, often times at night with great risk to our personnel.  The use of the UAVs could significantly shorten the search time and dramatically lessen the risk to our firefighters,” Bitters said.   
The chief said that as the department continues to use the UAV technology, its personnel will better understand the value of its many potential uses within the fire and rescue operations.  He intends to continue to carefully and cautiously move forward to ensure that his department is governed by policy and procedure with appropriate training while expanding its group of FAA-certified remote pilots.
“We want to ensure that our use of UAVs is safe and effective, as well as cost effective and sustainable,” Bitters said.
Since moving to Ripon from Turlock where he owned a water company, Gibbs has been in the forefront serving the Ripon community both as Ripon Rotary president and as a private citizen.  From the free- standing clock in the downtown to the “Welcome to Ripon” free standing sign at the northbound Highway 99 off ramp and the planting of California poppies along the side of the freeway – Gibbs has been there as a community leader.
Gibbs has been in both the U.S. Army and the Air Force and has privately owned some five airplanes from a Navy N3 biplane with a 235 horsepower engine to a Cessna 170B and a Beechcraft Bonanza, along with a Pressurized, six passenger, P 210 super charged high performance airplane with a turbo charged engine.  The long-time pilot also owned and flew a 1200 horsepower P-28B military aircraft built by North American Aviation with a huge window in the wing, housing an aerial camera. 
The drone license recently granted Gibbs by the FAA notes his long established fixed wing aircraft licenses held over many years.

To contact Glenn Kahl, email