Drones used increasingly in Fremont to track suspects, rescue stranded people

FREMONT, Calif. (KGO) -- In one East Bay city, drones are proving to be a helpful tool in fighting crime and in locating stranded people. Just this past weekend, a stranded hiker was found after he fell at San Francisco's Mission Peak.

In Fremont, one of the city's drones can be launched in minutes. And when seconds count, it's proven to be invaluable for the firefighters.

On Saturday, a hiker fell in a steep rocky area of Mission Peak. Firefighters launched their drone.

"We had a fire crew respond in an ATV. Unfortunately, it was down a hillside and they couldn't get a direct view on him so we used the drone to fly over the victim, take a shot of where he was, and relay that to the rescuers," said Gary Ashley, a Battalion Chief with the Fremont Fire Department.

Fremont fire started its unmanned aerial system program a year ago. It's been used in around 100 incidents, including a search to locate a car that accidentally drove into Alameda Creek. It's used at fires to help them determine how safe it is to put crews on a roof. It's even used at hazardous materials spills.

"Instead of taking time to suit firefighters up, we're able to quickly place a drone in there and quickly read what chemicals were spilled and how much," explained Ashley.

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On Sunday a drone was launched to help police look for a burglar in the Walmart parking lot in Fremont. It was able to spot the suspect a block and a half away, hiding on top of a semi truck in an area officers driving by wouldn't be able to see.

"Whether we're trying to apprehend a suspect or whether we're trying to address a natural disaster or find someone that is missing the unmanned aerial vehicle is going to give us a perspective we didn't have before," said Lieutenant Matt Snelson with the Fremont Police Department.

Police share the drone equipment with firefighters and help each each other during emergencies. So far, it's been a partnership that's proving to be successful in their mission to keep people safe.

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