By Rachel Wulff

RANCHO CORDOVA (CBS13) — Sacramento Metro Fire has one of the only FAA approved drone programs in the nation with a dozen licensed pilots.

Their program serves as a model of what technology can do to help save lives.

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“We’ve used this on multiple incidents across county – and also regionally,” said Park Wilbourn, Metro Fire’s public information officer.

The department has 17 fully outfitted unmanned aerial vehicles for fire, flood, and search and rescue incidents.

“It’s needed,” said retired nurse Diane Hill, who walks the American River Parkway. “It’s the swimmers that get in trouble every year and there is always drownings, because people don’t know the river is quickly moving. They don’t know that it’s cold and they don’t take advantage of the free life jackets that are all over the place.”

The drone has the ability to drop a lifejacket to victims.

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“These aircraft are capable of infrared and looking at thermal imaging, so when you have a [person] in cold water it picks up those heat signatures,” Wilbourn said.

Metro Fire has a larger command vehicle for incidents involving other agencies – including SWAT.

“[For] the larger incidents, we will pull out our UAV van that’s fully outfitted with multiple TVs so we can set up a whole command unit with that areal footage,” Wilbourn said.

Authorities project drones could be equipped to fight fires in the future.

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“As tech continues to increase, Metro Fire is adapting with that technology. We are utilizing the resources we have and the technology that’s available to provide that for a higher level of service to the public,” said Wilbourn.